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Gorman Michael J. Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 731 pp. Pb; $48.   Link to Eerdmans

In the introduction to this second edition of Gorman’s textbook on the Pauline letters, Gorman offers ten approaches to the Apostle Paul’s letters. As is common in a Pauline introduction, the first two are the familiar traditional and new perspectives on Paul, but he also includes narrative-intertextual (Richard Hays), apocalyptic (Martyn, Gaventa, and Campbell), anti-imperialist (Richard Horsley), the “Wright-ian perspective” (N. T. Wright), Paul within Judaism (Mark Nanos), social scientific (John Barclay), feminist (Lynn Cohick, Amy-Jill Levine), and participationist (Douglas Campbell, Morna Hooker, Udo Schnelle). The reader of his introduction to Paul will find references to all of these perspectives in Gorman’s presentation since all make a contribution to our understanding of Paul.

The first six chapters of the book deal with background issues (Greco-Roman context, Pauline Mission and Paul the letter-writer) and theology (the Gospel, Pauline Spirituality and Theology). Since Gorman’s other work on Paul reflections a participationist model, it is not surprising to find this language throughout the book. (See my review of Gorman’s Becoming the Gospel). For example, Gorman Romans 8 as the “cruciform life in the Spirit” and 1 Corinthians 13 is the “rule” of cruciform love. Gorman understands justification through this lens as well. Justification in Paul is both a liberation from sin and a transformation to righteousness (175).

In his chapter on Pauline theology, Gorman offers twelve fundamental convictions (which he summarizes in a single sentence, albeit about a half-page in length). Rather than list these, I will focus on what I think are the most important for understanding Gorman’s approach to Paul over all. First, following N. T. Wright, Gorman sees Jesus’s death on the cross was the “climax of the covenant.” What the cross accomplished in Jesus what Israel could not and initiated the new age of the spirit. The present age is the overlap of this age and the age to come. Second, Gorman describes the “law of the messiah” as cruciformity, the cross is not just the source of salvation, but also the shape of salvation (177). In a text like Philippians 3:10-11 Paul can claim to be like Jesus in his death, even though he is still in this life. Third, Gorman has always challenged readers by describing the church as an alternative community. The ones who participate in the new cross-shaped life in Christ form an alternative to the world in which they find themselves. For Gorman, this is a rich source for the application of Pauline theology to present church life. If churches are to be an alternative community, then they ought to model their participation in new life by transforming communities through justice and peace-making.

Following these introductory chapters, Gorman provides a chapter on each of the thirteen Pauline letters. He begins with the title of the book with a short tagline and key verse. The first section for each chapter is the “story behind the letter.” This section briefly sets the letter into the proper cultural and historical context (including the context of the book of Acts). The second section of the chapter, “the story within the letter,” works through the outline of the book the book offering a short running commentary of each pericope. Occasionally Greek words appear transliterated in footnotes, so a student with little or no Greek will have no trouble reading the body of the chapter. Gorman provides bullet-point summaries at the end of sections for larger books. The third section in each chapter is the “story in front of the letter.” Here Gorman collects a series trenchant quotations from historical and contemporary commentators on the letter (and occasionally a non-specialist). Each chapter concludes with a series of questions for reflection and a “for further reading” list, divided into both general and technical works. This provides a student with resources to write responses and papers based on the reflection questions.

Rather than survey each chapter, I will highlight a few of the usual things people want to know about a textbook on Pauline letters. Gorman lists 1-2 Thessalonians first, and although he considers the north Galatia theory to be the scholarly consensus, he thinks the south Galatia better accounts for the data and considers Galatians to be written between 48-51. With respect to the unity of 2 Corinthians, Gorman surveys the major view for dividing 2 Corinthians into three separate letters and suggests that Paul’s use of rhetoric may account for the apparent disunity of the book. He says what unifies 2 Corinthians is the “Spirit-filled cruciform shape of the transformed life” (346). With respect to the purpose of Romans, Gorman argues the main purpose is Jew-Gentile friction in Rome, but there is far more to Romans than this one issue.

With respect to the Prison epistles, Gorman thinks an Ephesian imprisonment for Philippians is simpler, but it does not make much difference for the interpretation of the letter. His comments on Philippians 2:5-11 are the most detailed in the book primarily because Gorman considers these verses to be Paul’s “master story.” Understanding Paul’s presentation of Philippians 2:5-11 will help to interpret other problem texts in the Pauline letters. Gorman does not think the a decision on the authorship of the unit is necessary, Paul may have used a preexisting hymn, adapted a hymn, or composed the text himself.

The authorship of Ephesians and Colossians is always a major point of discussion in introductions to Paul. Gorman concludes Paul likely did not write Colossians word-for-word, but it is so close to Paul’s thought that it must be written by someone close to Paul who knew him well (551). He suggests Tychicus, the bearer of the letter, is the most likely candidate since he may have acted as scribe for Paul and then interpreter of the letter when it was first delivered. He thinks this is the same case for Ephesians, Tychicus wrote the book “maintaining the voice of Paul” (580).

For the Pastoral letters, Gorman discusses 2 Timothy first because he thinks the content of the letter comes from the time of Paul and accurately represents his thoughts, but may have been written after Paul’s death. 1 Timothy and Titus come from a later time and reflect the church after Paul’s death (614).

There are illustrations and maps throughout the book. The map of Corinth is particularly well done, I would have liked to see these for each of the locations (although that is not always possible based on the evidence). Many of the photographs were taken by Gorman or his students on his trips to Pauline sites in Europe and Turkey. Although they are reproduced in black and white, they are not the usual photographs found in these sorts of textbooks.

Conclusion. Apostle of the Crucified Lord continues to be a valuable introduction to the Pauline letters. Gorman’s presentation of Pauline theology challenges contemporary church leaders not only to know Pauline theology, but to live as cross-shaped people who seek to transform their world.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Taylor, Richard A. Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2016. 205 pp. Pb; $21.99.   Link to Kregel

This new contribution to Kregel’s Handbooks of Old Testament Exegesis has a more narrow focus since apocalyptic literature only appears in parts Daniel and a few other prophetic books. Taylor therefore expands his comments beyond the canon of the Hebrew Bible to include literature from the Second Temple Period usually classified as apocalyptic.

taylor-apocalyptic-literatureThe first chapter defines apocalyptic literature. Taylor surveys the contemporary resurgence of interest in apocalyptic as well as the difficulty scholars have defining the genre. He distinguishes between an apocalypse as a form of literature and apocalypticism as a worldview. This is an important distinction since some literature labeled as apocalyptic does not represent the kind of apocalypticism commonly used in contemporary discussions. What is more, there is a difference between apocalyptic as a genre and an apocalyptic eschatology. The sudden and decisive intervention of God to judge the world may appear in wide a variety of literature, whether that literature is apocalyptic or not. Taylor also distinguishes between proto-apocalyptic (presumably Isaiah 24-27) and the later fully developed apocalyptic (presumably Daniel and 1 Enoch 1-36). The later forms of apocalyptic tend toward otherworldly journeys or esoteric allegories (The Animal Apocalypse).

In the second chapter Taylor surveys major themes in apocalyptic literature. This is the longest chapter in the book and is divided into three parts. First Taylor briefly summarizes the major works of apocalyptic in the Old Testament (Daniel, parts of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Joel, and Malachi). Extra-biblical apocalypses include 1 Enoch (in five sections), 2 Enoch, Jubilees, Fourth Ezra, Second Baruch, Apocalypse of Abraham, Testament of Levi, Testament of Abraham, Apocalypse of Zephaniah and Testament of Moses. Most of these are summarized in a short paragraph. Taylor surveys apocalyptic in the literature of the Qumran community (the Dead Sea Scrolls) in four pages.

The section of this chapter offers an overview of literary features of apocalyptic. Of primary importance is the revelatory nature of the literature. The writers of extra-biblical apocalyptic express their revelations in the dreams and visions of a hero of the distant past who claims to be revealing or hiding deep secrets. In order to give authority to their revelation, the hero is often from the distant past (Enoch, Baruch, Ezra). Pseudonymity is a common feature of apocalyptic. Because the revelation is in dreams and visions, these books tend to use complicated imagery which overwhelms the reader.

The third section of this chapter develops several themes common in apocalyptic, including angelology, ethical dualism, and determinism. In most of this literature there a soon-to-come crisis, but the faithful remnant will perseverance through that crisis. The eschatological crisis concludes with divine judgment where the righteous remnant will be vindicated and the oppressors will be judged. Each of these features are richly illustrated from 1 Enoch, Second Baruch and Fourth Ezra.

Chapters three and four form a guide to interpreting apocalyptic. For the most part, this section offers genre-specific insights into dealing with apocalyptic beginning with figurative language. Taylor surveys several types of imagery and illustrates these with biblical prophetic texts. A second section is a brief discussion of reception history, although most of these might be better described as “do not let this happen to you.” Here Taylor dismisses attempts to decode apocalyptic in order to discover hidden meanings. The bulk of chapter three concerns textual history and original languages. Although the illustrations are drawn from apocalyptic, there is nothing genre-specific. Taylor presents a standard grammatical historical method which serves apocalyptic as well as prose or poetry in the Old or New Testaments.

His final warnings to would-be interpreters of apocalyptic are excellent, however. Both unnecessary ignorance and misplaces certainty in one’s interpretation of apocalyptic should be avoided. His third warning is to refuse to manipulate the details of apocalyptic in order to fit the eschatological scheme already adopted by the interpreter. The specific example he uses is a historicist reading of 1335 days in Daniel 12:12 and 2300 mornings and evenings in Daniel 8:14. But this warning equally applies to a futurist interpretation who wants to read the details of Daniel as referring to a future tribulation or an idealist interpreter who does not want to see any specific application to future events at all. Taylor’s fourth warning cautions against creating arbitrary timelines from apocalyptic literature. He appears to have the historicists in view again, although in a footnote he dismisses Hal Lindsey’s prediction of a 1981 or 1988 rapture.

Chapters five and six offers practical advice on preaching apocalyptic literature along with examples of expositions from Daniel 8 and Joel 2:28-32. As with his exegetical method, much of his advice in these two chapters is not genre-specific (clarifying structure, main points of pericopae, etc.) I would have appreciated some comments on what NOT to preach in this literature. Preaching through Daniel 1-6 is relatively easy, but is it possible to preach through Daniel 11 in a series of expositional sermons in a way that is faithful to the text and applicable to a modern congregation?

Taylor concludes the book with a brief yet extremely helpful survey of antecedents of apocalyptic. Canaanite mythology (Gunkel, Cross), Akkadian prophecy (Hallo), Mesopotamian traditions (Kvanig), Egyptian apocalypticism (McCown), Wisdom literature (von Rad), Temple theology (Hamerton-Kelly), Hellenistic Syncretism (Betz), Persian religion (Hanson, Hultgård), Anti-Imperialism (Horsley) and Old Testament prophetic literature (Sweeny). Each is briefly illustrated and the footnotes point to relevant literature.

Conclusion. Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature fills a need for a basic introduction to apocalyptic literature, although the book is limited to the few examples in the Old Testament. I would have liked to see Revelation included as well, so that a single Handbook would cover the genre of Apocalyptic, rather than one for the Old Testament and another for the New.  Nevertheless, this Handbook reaches its goal of providing students of Old Testament prophecy the tools for teaching and preaching these important and often neglected texts. This would make a good textbook for a college or seminary class on the Prophets, especially in more conservative circles.

NB: Thanks to Kregel Books for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Reviews of previous volumes in this series:

Gary Smith, Interpreting the Prophets

Herbert Bateman, Interpreting the General Letters

John D. Harvey, Interpreting the Pauline Letters

ancient-apocryphal-gospelsThanks to WJKP for sending along a review copy of this new textbook by Markus Bockmuehl. This is the latest in the Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church series, which is itself a subset of the Interpretation commentary series.

The book begins with a 54 page chapter defining an ancient Christian Gospel. Since there are about eighty documents which fall under the category “gospel,” Bockmuehl must carefully define what he will include in this book. In his conclusion he comments “the canonical gospels appear to be unique and distinctive” (226). There are no narrative apocryphal gospels which attempt to tell the story of Jesus from baptism to resurrection, although they all seem to presuppose the general outline of the canonical gospels.

After this introduction, Bockmuehl offers a chapter infancy gospels (such as James and Thomas), ministry Gospels (Egerton and “secret Mark”), Passion Gospels (such as the Gospel of Peter), and post-resurrection gospels (such as the Gospels of Thomas and Philip).

Bockmuehl also concludes these apocryphal gospels were not suppressed from the canon and the evidence overwhelmingly indicate no one thought these gospels would supersede the canonical gospels. Many were in fact produced as private literature and intentionally hidden. As Bockmuehl says, these gospels did not “become apocryphal but remained so” (232). This is important since much of what is written on these gospels is sensationalism at its worst. These are the lost gospels, or the gospels the Church did not want people to read. In fact, only a small percentage of the literature surveyed in this book could be considered subversive by the orthodox church. For example, Bockmuehl considers the Gospel of Jesus as “antagonistic” (234), but most of this literature is not dark, heretical knowledge.

So why read this literature? The non-canonical gospels bear witness to a wide variety of early Christian thinking. The first few centuries of the church were far more diverse than many overly-optimistic church histories would lead you to believe. This diversity also indicates the difficulties of dealing with who Jesus was as presented by the four canonical gospels.

The book includes an extensive 47 page bibliography may be worth the price of the book by itself.

Look for a full review soon.

 

romans-debateIt is time to draw a name for The Romans Debate, Revised and Expanded Edition (1991, Baker Academic). This book is a brand new paperback (with a remainder mark) and is my own copy.

There were 24 people signed up (I allowed only one entry per person). I took each of your names, sorted randomly and then pasted them into Excel. Random.org gave me a number between 1-28, and the winner is…..

Rubén de Rus

Congratulations to Rubén, better luck next time for the rest of you. Rubén should contact me privately with his shipping info, I will get the book out tomorrow.

I at least one more book to give away, so look for another post later today.

 

 

 

Gorman_ecoming the Gospel_wrk02.inddGorman, Michael J. Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 351 pp. Pb; $28.   Link to Eerdmans

In this new monograph Michael Gorman asserts the apostle Paul wanted his communities to not only believe the gospel, to become the gospel by participating in the life and mission of God (2). Gorman describes local churches as “colonies of cruciformity” Gorman has already contributed two books with similar themes (Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross, Eerdmans 2001 and Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, Eerdmans 2009). This book intends to develop this view of Paul’s theology of participation by reading Paul missionally. After two introductory chapters, Gorman examines becoming faith, hope and love in 1 Thessalonians, the story of Christ in Philippians, the gospel of peace in Ephesians, and the justice of God in 1-2 Corinthians and Romans.

In this book Gorman argues Paul “expected the salvation of God to spread throughout the world not only by means of his own Gospel ministry but also by means of the participation of his converts in various house churches” (61). In fact, the church was to be a “living exegesis” of the gospel of God (43).

Gorman uses Philippians 2:6-11 as a model of the gospel several times in the book. He calls this text a “missional Christology for a missional people” (109). The pattern of these verses is “although [x] status, not [y] selfishness, but [z] self-renunciation and self-giving.” In Philippians, Jesus as the status of “form of God” [x], but did not consider than status as something to be exploited [y], but rather he emptied himself so that he could give himself on the cross [z]. Chapter 4 contains a careful exegesis of these verses and Gorman describes them as Paul’s master text. Gorman shows how Paul’s example in 1 Thessalonians 2 or 1 Corinthians 9 follows this same pattern (87), but also Paul’s expectation for his churches are similarly modeled.

But Gorman is not advocating some bland lifestyle evangelism. Using the Thessalonian church as an example, it appears their faithfulness to the gospel was public and in some way brought them into conflict with their culture, perhaps even leading to the death of some members of the congregation because of their faithful witness (74; although he admits this is a minority view in footnote 24, I am inclined to agree). In addition to this, those who have expressed public faith in the gospel would have face questions from friends and family about their abandonment of cultic activity. This would include a rejection of family gods, but also civic and imperial worship. This would be interpreted as impious and unpatriotic behavior, potentially leading to persecution (95). Gorman says “one cannot speak of the ‘good news’ of Jesus as ‘Lord’ without focusing on the countercultural religious and political claims of this story” (134). The gospel itself challenges the false master story of the Roman world. If the church is actually living out the gospel in their lives then they will challenge culture in very real ways which will lead naturally to persecution.

Gorman spends two chapters on the church as the embodiment of peace. Chapter 5 is a biblical theology of peace which defines peace as shalom, the fullness of life promised by God (143). Although Western Christians tend to think of peace in the Pauline letters as “peace with God,” Gorman follows N. T. Wright in arguing peace is central to both Paul’s soteriology and ecclesiology. Certainly reconciliation with God is important for Paul, but peace within the community is constantly repeated throughout Paul’s letters. If a local church is an embodiment of the gospel, and peace with God is central to that gospel, then peace with one another must be an important component of how a church lives out the gospel in a community. Gorman sees the peacemaking mission of the church as an anticipatory participation in the coming eschatological kingdom of peace (162, almost an “already/not yet” argument).

To support this, Gorman offers a detailed reading of Ephesians. Ephesians refers to peace eight times, including the introduction (1:2) and conclusion (6:15) of the letter. Before looking at the way Ephesians describes peace, Gorman must deal with several obvious objections to using Ephesians as a model for Pauline ecclesiology. He deals with the authorship problem briefly by stating that Paul is the genius behind the letter regardless of who wrote it. A second problem with Ephesians is the alleged patriarchy of Ephesians 5:22-6-9. Although there are various ways to deal with this problem, Gorman points out the peace of the gospel ought to effect all relationships in which believers participate, so that if a male head of a household is acting peaceably, then he cannot mistreat his wife, children or slaves (186).

He then argues the book of Ephesians demonstrates that Christ’s death reconciles people to God, but also people to one another (192). To emphasize one or the other is to miss the point of “Christ as peacemaker.” But the church is not simply to “be peace,” but rather they are to keep the peace. If shalom means harmony, then the local church ought to be a place characterized by the same cruciform love that created the church (196). Peacemaking cannot reduced to a nebulous imitation of Christ or God, although it certainly includes “putting on” Christ.

Each chapter concludes with a brief example of a ministry which is “being the gospel” in a particular community. For example, after arguing Paul expects his churches to be peacemakers, Gorman illustrates describes Christian Peacemaker Teams, an ecumenical ministry which seeks nonviolent alternatives in Palestine, Iraq, Columbia or other war-torn regions. For the church as the justice of God, Gorman draws attention to Mary’s Cradle in Bluefield, West Virginia, a ministry associated with Trinity United Methodist Church. The ministry provides assistance for pregnant women and offers a range of services for women. These illustrations are helpful because they provide concrete examples of how local churches can think creatively to be the gospel in their communities.

Conclusion. I have always been associated with Christian organizations which were decidedly evangelistic although not always intentional in how they live out the gospel in a community. Missionaries went off someplace and did missions and the local church supported that mission with prayer and money. But this is not what Paul envisioned when he planted local churches in specific communities. Gorman shows Paul’s “missionary strategy” was to create local manifestations of the gospel, local churches, which then could reach into their communities as a living gospel. I agree with Gorman’s assessment that some churches are hearing a call to be the gospel through a “renewed imagination.” In Becoming the Gospel Gorman provides a solid exegetical, biblical foundation for local church involvement in local communities.

The Eerdmans podcast has a two-part interview with Gorman (episodes 14 and 15) and Gorman answered a few questions on Eerdworld about this book.

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

romans-debateThis week I am giving away a copy of The Romans Debate, Revised and Expanded Edition (1991, Baker Academic). This collection of essays on Romans was first published in 1977 and then reprinted and expanded in 1991 by Hendricksen. The current printing of the book is under from Baker Academic. This is one of the best resources for anyone doing serious work in Romans.  The book collects key essays in the book of Romans from as early as 1962. All of the essays were published elsewhere, but this 372 page volume makes them available with a full set of indices.

This book is a brand new paperback (with a remainder mark) and is my own copy.

Same rules as last week: Enter by leaving a comment telling me which essay you will read first. On Tuesday January 16 I will randomly select one comment and ship the book out to the lucky winner. If you leave more than one comment, I will only count one comment per person for the contest.

Good Luck!

 

Table of Contents:

  • St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans–and Others, T. W. Manson
  • The Letter to the Romans as Paul’s Last Will and Testament, Gunther Bornkamm
  • Paul’s Purpose in Writing the Epistle to the Romans, Gunter Klein
  • A Short Note on Romans 16, Karl Paul Donfried
  • The Letter to Jerusalem, Jacob Jervell
  • Romans 14:1-15:13 and the Occasion of Romans, Robert J. Karris
  • The Jewish Community in Ancient Rome and the Origins of Roman Christianity, Wolfgang Wiefel
  • False Presuppositions in the Study of Romans, Karl Paul Donfried
  • The Occasion of Romans: A Response to Prof. Donfried, Robert J. Karris
  • Paul’s Rhetoric of Argumentation in Romans: An Alternative to the Donfried-Karris Debate Over Romans, Wilhelm Wuellner
  • The Form and Function of the Greek Letter-Essay, Martin Luther Stirewalt, Jr.

Part II
Section A: Historical and Sociological Factors

  • The Romans Debate, F. F. Bruce
  • Purpose and Occasion of Romans Again, A. J. M. Wedderburn
  • The Two Roman Congregations: Romans 14:1-15:13, Francis Watson
  • The Roman Christians of Romans 16, Peter Lampe
  • The Purpose of Romans, Peter Stuhlmacher

Section B The Structure and Rhetoric of Romans

  • The Formal and Theological Coherence of Romans, James D. G. Dunn
  • Romans III as a Key to the Structure and Thought of Romans, William S. Campbell
  • Following the Argument of Romans, Robert Jewett
  • Romans as a Logos Protreptikos, David E. Aune

Section C The Theology of Romans: Issues in the Current Debate

  • The New Perspective on Paul: Paul and the Law, James D. G. Dunn
  • Israel’s Misstep in the Eyes of Paul, Lloyd Gaston
  • The Faithfulness of God and the Priority of Israel in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, J. C. Beker
  • The Theme of Romans, Peter Stuhlmacher

 

abernety-isaiahToday is the day I pick a winner for a copy of Andrew Abernethy’s Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom. There were 28 people signed up (I allowed only one entry per person). I took each of your names, sorted randomly and then pasted them into Excel. Random.org gave me a number between 1-28, and the winner is…..

Abraham Ndungu

If Abraham can contact me privately (plong42@gmail.com) I will make arrangements to ship the book out as soon as possible. Thanks to everyone for signing up, I will have another book giveaway to announce this afternoon.

 

abernety-isaiahIt is the beginning of a new year, and to celebrate I am offering a brand new copy of Andrew Abernathy’s The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom: A Thematic-Theological Approach (NSBT 40; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016).

I reviewed the book at the end of the year, follow the link and read what I said then, here is the teaser:

This new contribution to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series focuses on the theme of Kingdom in the book of Isaiah. The topic of kingdom in the whole canon of Scripture is too large for a short monograph, but by limiting the discussion to Isaiah Abernethy is able to provide a reasonable foundation for understanding the book of Isaiah and its foundational role in a Christian understanding of Jesus. Abernethy’s previous book on Isaiah focused on the theme of food in Isaiah (Eating in Isaiah: Approaching the Role of Food and Drink in Isaiah’s Structure and Message. Leiden: Brill 2014, reviewed here).

You can enter by leaving a comment telling me your favorite passage in Isaiah. Only one chance per person. If you leave more than one comment, I will only count one comment per person for the contest.

On Monday January 9 I will randomly select one comment and ship the book out to the lucky winner.  Check back then to see if you are the winner, and I will announce another giveaway on January 9. You can also follow me on twitter @plong42 to keep up with these announcements.

Good Luck!

 

Walton, Benjamin H. Preaching Old Testament Narratives.  Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2016. 254 pp. Pb; $18.99. Link to Kregel  

This short book is based on Walton’s 2012 D.Min thesis for Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (“Enhancing Hermeneutical Accuracy for the Preaching of Old Testament Narratives Using 2 Samuel 11-12 as a Case Study.”) The book offers a methodology for both the interpretive and practical skills necessary for preaching Old Testament narrative.

walton-preaching-narrativesThe first three chapters deal with hermeneutical concerns. First, Walton explains preaching with “biblical authority” means accurately proclaiming and applying the message of biblical preaching texts (29). This necessarily requires a proper hermeneutic for the genre. Since the genre of Old Testament narrative is quite different than a New Testament epistle, Walton argues this difference in genre requires hermeneutical steps in order to write a sermon with an appropriate application.

Second, Walton deals with the often difficult problem of selecting appropriate texts from the Old Testament to preach and making them applicable, what he calls “take home truth.” He offers five steps, beginning with identifying a complete unit of thought (CUT), the moving from the original theological message (OTM) to the take-home truth (THT). These abbreviations are used throughout the book. Although chapter 2 is a basic introduction to reading narrative, it goes beyond identifying a narrative to demonstrating how a large narrative can be captured in a short, crisp original theological statement. If that statement is clear and concise, then “crafting the take-home truth” will be easier and more accurate. I suspect pastors usually start with what they want their application to be, then drive that thought into a text whether it belongs there or not. Walton’s method starts with a serious reading of the text using all of the exegetical skills and tools available so that the final application arises from the text itself. Walton provides a short example of his method in chapter 3 using 1 Samuel 11-12.

One thing missing from Walton’s discussion is some advice on “what not to preach.” A pastor might decide to preach through a series of stories in the Old Testament, but not every paragraph needs to be read and explained. In fact, there are texts that do not make appropriate preaching texts. For example, when preaching through the life of David, it is important to illustrate Saul’s jealousy of David and the loyalty of Saul’s children to David rather than to their father. But it might not be appropriate to treat the dowry Saul demands of David in detail (1 Sam 18:24-28). I might discuss this unusual bride-price in a Sunday School class or a small group Bible Study, but most morning worship service sermons are not quite ready for this particular paragraph.

Walton indicates chapters 4-10 are a “conscious attempt to apply, in my own way, Donald Sunukijan’s homiletic to the preaching of Old Testament narratives” (19). Some of this is generic enough to be used for any text in the Bible (creating introductions and conclusions, applications as “picture painting, etc.) Where Walton excels is his principles for preaching through a text in complete units of thought, rather than verse-by-verse. He recommends summarizing texts without reading whole sections. Certainly some verses ought to be read with the congregation, but to read twenty verses of an Old Testament narrative will not engage the congregation. Another way to do this is to explain the text as it is read, so that the preacher is creating a running commentary, explaining details of the text in order to bring the focus back on the take-home truth.

In Chapter 11 Walton outlines a method for moving from the text of the Old Testament to Christ. Since evangelical pastors want to preach Christ in every sermon, they often avoid the Old Testament because it can be difficult to draw a reasonable and appropriate application from an Old Testament narrative that somehow can be tied to the Gospel. Walton uses an “old covenant to the new covenant” method, similar to apostolic preaching in Acts or Paul in the epistles. By preaching new Covenant theology or ethics, Walton asserts, we are preaching Christ (185). If the take-home truth is well-crafted and attentive to the theological meaning of the original text, then a preacher might as how Christ makes that application possible in the present, New Covenant age. Walton highly recommends the work of Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 1999) as well as his Preaching Christ from Genesis (Eerdmans, 2007).

In his final chapter, Walton offers advice on developing from a good preacher to an excellent preacher. These nine sections apply to any sort of preaching, whether expository from the Old Testament or not. Two sections of this chapter stand out to me. First, he recommends fifteen hours dedicated to sermon preparation, not including practicing the sermon. I suspect most pastors would like to dedicate this much time, but few are able to do so because of other demands on their time. Walton cites his mentor Donald Sunukjian as describing sermon preparation as “the hardest and best thing we will ever do” (200). Second, he recommends writing a manuscript for the sermon, then ditching it. I almost always create a lengthy manuscript of my sermons, although I cannot quite “ditch it” when I preach; it functions like a security blanket for me, and I am OK with that. But Walton is correct that the best preachers have prepared well and should not need the safety net of a manuscript.

Walton includes several appendices demonstrating his method and offering a short overview of the story of the Old Testament.

Conclusion. With five pages of endorsements from academics and preaching experts, the book certainly comes well recommended. Walton’s book does in fact provide a useful method for preaching the narratives of the Old Testament. The value of the book is often in the form of brief advice from an experienced preacher.

Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Abernethy, Andrew T. The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom: A Thematic-Theological Approach. NSBT 40; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016. 245 pp. Pb; $25.  Link to IVP

This new contribution to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series focuses on the theme of Kingdom in the book of Isaiah. The topic of kingdom in the whole canon of Scripture is too large for a short monograph, but by limiting the discussion to Isaiah Abernethy is able to provide a reasonable foundation for understanding the book of Isaiah and its foundational role in a Christian understanding of Jesus. Abernethy’s previous book on Isaiah focused on the theme of food in Isaiah (Eating in Isaiah: Approaching the Role of Food and Drink in Isaiah’s Structure and Message. Leiden: Brill 2014, reviewed here).

abernety-isaiahIn his introduction, Abernethy describes his approach in this book as synchronic since he is interpreting the book of Isaiah as a literary whole without being concerned about the historical formation of the book. This approach recognizes the coherence of the whole book of Isaiah through a network of intentional literary associations in each of the major sections of the book. Be he is quick to point out that although questions of historical process for the formation of the book are set aside, history is important for interpreting the book of Isaiah. He will divide this large book into the standard three sections commonly used by scholars so that Isaiah 1-39 are rooted in the Assyrian era, Isaiah 40-55 are rooted in the Babylonian era (with 44-45 in the Persian era). Isaiah 55-66 represent the struggles of the post-exilic period in the light of the eschaton. This “metahistory” is derived from the final form of the book regardless of how the book was formed.

The whole book of Isaiah “endeavours to orient the allegiance of its readers around a king, namely YHWH” (13). The first three chapters survey what Isaiah says about God in the three major units of Isaiah. After commenting on a unit in Isaiah, Abernethy offers a few paragraphs on the unit in the canon of Scripture, specifically on how the unit “bears witness to Christ: (29). These brief reflections are intended to be more than sterile “Old Testament in the New” lists. Isaiah 1-39, especially since some of the texts Abernethy uses are not directly cited in the New Testament. For example, there is no direct citation of Isaiah 25:6-8 in the New Testament, but Abernethy finds intertextual allusions or echoes in the Last Supper (cf. Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper, 448-58 or my Jesus the Bridegroom, 202-4). Other canonical reflections seem strained For example, Abernethy relates Isaiah 36-37 to kingdom language in Matthew, especially the interactions between Jesus and Pilate. This particular example falls well below even a nebulous allusion, although the point may be more clear if this were a monograph on a biblical theology of Kingdom in Matthew.

Chapter 1 reviews the presentation of God as the “king now and to come” (Isaiah 1-39). Abernethy begins with Isaiah’s throne vision to argue that God is the only king and that he is about to render “purifying judgment” on his people (20). In fact, the theme of Isaiah 1-39 can be fairly described as “who is the real king?” The king in Jerusalem is dead, and despite his boasts, Sennacherib is not the true king. The throne vision therefore stands in the center of Isaiah 1-12 in order to throw light on the narrative of Isaiah 1-5 and 7-12 by focusing on the thrice-holy enthroned king. This king will judge the nations and rule from Zion (24:21-23) where he will host a feast for all people, destroying the ultimate enemy, death (25:6-8). This king will reign in beauty, and the eyes of the people will see him (Isaiah 33:17). Abernethy points out this is particularly stirring when read in the light of Isaiah 6. Isaiah sees God and is filled with dread; in Isaiah 33 seeing God is a “vision of hope” (43-4).

In the chapter 2, Abernethy examines Isaiah 40-55 and describes God as the only saving king. Much has happened between Isaiah 39 and 40; Israel has been sent back out into the wilderness and they are to prepare for God’s return. Although it is possible the wilderness is a positive image recalling Israel’s early, pure relationship with God, for Abernethy the wilderness “symbolizes Zion’s destruction” (57). God’s kingly presence will manifest itself as a shepherd king who leads his people out of the dangerous wilderness and back to the good land. Abernethy draws parallels between Isaiah 40:1-11 and 52:7-10, arguing these texts function “to orient our hopes, our desires for comfort, our longings for vindication around the prophetic declarations that God himself is promising to come as king” (65).

In his third chapter, God is “the warrior, international, and compassionate king” (Isaiah 56-66). These chapters are concerned with “eschatological judgment as a collar to salvation” (83), looking forward to a time when God will function as warrior king who will pacify the nations. In order to demonstrate this, Abernethy lays out a chiastic arrangement of 56-66 which sets Isaiah 60-62 in the center. This chapter examines the fourth level of the chiasm, the anticipation of God’s coming salvation (59:15-21) and the final expression of that salvation (63:1-6). The warrior king appears but only sees injustice (59:15a-16), therefore delaying his vindication of his people. When he finally arrives, it is a day of fury and vengeance (63:4-6). Here Abernethy draws a canonical refection to two images of Jesus in the New Testament, first initiating redemption (Luke 1:51) and rendering final judgment (Rev 14:9-11; 19:15-16).

As a conclusion to the first three chapters, Abernethy offers a short theology of kingship in Isaiah (112-17). The recurring themes in Isaiah are seeing the glory of the king, the international king enthroned in Zion; the coordination of judgment and salvation; history and eschatology. These themes are tied to the historical situation of the book (Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian eras) but by the end of the book Isaiah “directs our attention to the eschatological future” (117).

Having surveyed what Isaiah says about the kingship of God, Abernethy devotes chapter 4 to the “lead agents” of the king in each subsection of the book. First, by “lead agent” Abernethy means the character through whom God acts to accomplish salvation and judgment. Although the obvious term to use is “messiah” Abernethy prefers “lead agent” in order to avoid confusion about how Isaiah presents the agent of salvation in each unit of the book. He finds a different lead agent for each of the three units of the book. For Isaiah 1-39, the lead agent is a Davidic ruler who establishes righteousness and justice in the land. In Isaiah 40-55 the lead agent is the Servant who also brings justice to the nations by providing atonement. In Isaiah 56-66 it is the “messenger” of Isaiah 61 who declares God’s salvation at the very beginning of the eschaton.  As Abernethy concedes, most Christian evangelical readers will see all three of these figures as the Messiah, Jesus (169). However, each lead figure functions in their own historical context and are distinct characters from the perspective of the book of Isaiah. The claim of the New Testament is that Jesus takes on all three distinct roles.

Abernethy is content to allow some ambiguity in Isaiah with respect to how these lead agents function as messianic figures. I would suggest the ambiguity explains the variety of messianic expectations in the Second Temple period. If Abernethy is correct and there are at least three lead agents of the eschaton in Isaiah, Second Temple readers of Isaiah seem to have developed one aspect of the coming messiah (such as a Davidic king) and downplayed or missed the others (such as the suffering servant). Early Jewish Christianity may be unique in associating Jesus with all three of the lead agents described by Abernethy.

Finally, chapter 5 concerns “the realm and the people of God’s kingdom.” Abernethy describes Isaiah’s view of the kingdom as “bifocal” since sometimes God’s kingdom is the entire cosmos (40:28) in in other contexts the kingdom is particularized as Zion (65:17). Jerusalem and Zion are a microcosm of the universal kingdom of God (176), and Abernethy refuses to discuss how physical Jerusalem “fits into God’s plan on this side of the cross” (179). Isaiah is clear, however, the people who participate in this future kingdom will be purified and redeemed remnant who are obedient to the King and trust completely in God. The theme of trust is clear in the Ahaz and Hezekiah stories, but Abernethy shows how this theme appears in each of the sections of the boo (Isa 50:10, for example). This kingdom will also be an international community. Abernethy shows that Isaiah 2:2-4 and 66:18-24 frame the book with the prediction that in the latter times Gentiles will be part of God’s kingdom. Although the nations do participate in the eschatological kingdom in some way, I would point out the blood staining the warrior king in Isaiah 63:3 is that of Gentile nations who have opposed God and oppressed his people.

Conclusion. Abernethy contributes an overview of the whole book of Isaiah using the theme of the kingdom of God. Although there are other themes in Isaiah, kingship provides the reader with enough structure to make sense of the massive amount of material in the book of Isaiah. By describing the lead agents of God’s salvation in each unit of the book, Abernethy has provided a useful rubric for understanding how messianic expectations developed in different directions in the Second Temple period.

This is a very readable book for both scholar and layman. Abernethy is clear and structured in his presentation with occasional allusions to pop culture (Batman, the Matrix and Lord of the Rings). Although presenting an important scholarly argument about the book of Isaiah, his canonical reflections have a pastoral interest for the Christian reader. In fact, Abernethy offers two possible teaching outlines in an appendix for use in a small group Bible Study or Sunday School class.

 

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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