Review: Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature

28147335Richard A. Taylor is Senior Professor of Old Testament Studies and Director of the PhD program at Dallas Theological Seminary. Taylor received PhDs from Bob Jones University and the Catholic University of America and has published in both Bibliotheca Sacra and JETS. His previous publications include a commentary on Haggai in the New American Commentary series. Most recently, Taylor published an interpretive guide to the apocalyptic literature of the Old Testament in the widely praised Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis series by Kregel Academic.

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook begins with a 20-page introduction to the genre of apocalyptic literature, including the distinctiveness of apocalyptic literature as a genre and various definitions related to the task of grasping apocalyptic literature in general. Taylor defines apocalyptic literature as “written expression of the emphasis that characterize apocalyptic communities, whether found in stand alone compositions known as apocalypses or in sections of material assimilated into other genres of literature” (p. 36). Taylor addresses the major themes in apocalyptic literature and covers a wide sample of representative text, including both biblical and extrabiblical material. Most of the book is spent equipping the reader with the tools for preparation, interpretation, and the proclamation of apocalyptic literature, specifically where such is discovered in the Old Testament. Lastly, Taylor offers a sample of his interpretive methods and uses Daniel and Joel as test cases.

There is much to be praised by Taylor’s work here. First, and probably foremost, the simple fact that he wrote the book is to be commended. Apocalyptic literature is a difficult genre that either gets mishandled or overlooked. Taylor has not only offered a framework for understanding this obscure genre, but he has made that framework exciting. Second, Taylor went beyond the canonical borders of the Old Testament and provided readers with a wider understanding of apocalyptic literature in general. Taylor demonstrates that the genre of apocalypses was both more widely used and better understood in the ancient world, and thus, guides the readers to that world as he surveys characteristics of related documents. Finally, the bibliographical material provided throughout the preparation, interpretation, and proclamation sections is invaluable. The keen reader wishing to build a useful library will harvest much from Taylor’s recommendations.

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook by Richard A. Taylor is a unique and important work. Taylor informs both mind and heart on how to do proper exegesis of this obscure genre. Students, pastors, and teachers struggling to provide contemporary relevance to the apocalyptic literature of the Old Testament will do well consulting this volume. It’s an essential exegetical resource that will become a standard for many years to come. It will be on a syllabus near you soon, so you might as well be proactive and get started now! Trust me. It will pay off dividends in no time!

Review: The Historical Reliability of the New Testament

33236065Questions about the reliability of the New Testament are commonplace in twenty-first-century life. Many of these questions propose a serious challenge to the average churchgoing Christian. Can we be sure that the Gospel narratives provide accurate information concerning Jesus? If so, why are there contradictions among these accounts? How do we know that we have all of the New Testament books? How do we know the New Testament books possess the actual words written by the New Testament authors? It is here that The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs by Craig L. Blomberg offers readers a massive, accessible and comprehensive resource defending the historical veracity of the New Testament as Christian Scripture.

Craig L. Blomberg is no stranger to the broad-stroked conversation surrounding the reliability of the New Testament. In fact, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament is the culmination of several decades of scholarly research and practical reflection. The book is divided into six major sections: (1) The Synoptic Gospels, (2) The Gospel of John, (3) Acts and Paul, (4) The Rest of the New Testament, (5) Canonicity and Transmission, and (6) The Problem of Miracles. Some readers may find it interesting that Blomberg discusses the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John separately in a resource of this nature, but this is one indication of the comprehensive scope of the volume. Blomberg leaves no stone unturned, and the organization (i.e. discussing Acts and Paul together) of the volume displays both logic and familiarity on behalf of the author. Blomberg offers an excellent defense of traditional Pauline authorship of the epistles, and provides worthy interaction with the critical consensus that currently plagues much of the academic guild. As the attention moves towards the general epistles and Revelation, Blomberg further establishes issues of authorship and reliability within a broad evangelical conviction and provides ample interaction with recent scholarship.

While readers with different backgrounds and interests will likely differ on what sections they found to be most helpful, the section on canonicity and transmission will be among the most rewarding chapters in the book. This is especially true when considering the breadth of ground that Blomberg covers and establishes in the previous four sections. It is here that Blomberg succeeds in bringing much of the anticipated external questions concerning the historical reliability of the New Testament to rest. Blomberg addresses the Nag Hammadi literature, the New Testament Apocryphal literature, and other related documents and agrapha. Readers will also find a sizable section dedicated to the practice of textual criticism and the formation of the New Testament canon. Blomberg closes the book with a large chapter on miracles, the existence of miracles in the contemporary context, and the importance of the resurrection. Readers will find this to be an appropriate conclusion, as Blomberg completes his tour de force by bringing the theoretical into focus with the practical.

Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs by Craig L. Blomberg is an extraordinary achievement within the arena of evangelical scholarship. At more than 800 pages, Blomberg has left nearly no question unanswered. In fact, the only question left to be answered is why the publishers decided to produce this masterpiece in paperback format. Not only does the size of the tome deserve a hardcover, but the content requires it! If you are looking for an up-to-date, comprehensive engagement with leading critical thought seeking to challenge the reliability of the New Testament, then this massive volume is a must read! It is informative enough to serve the academic guild and accessible enough to equip the laity, and it comes highly recommended!!

Review: The Extent of the Atonement

29227859David L. Allen (Ph.D, University of Texas) is dean of the School of Preaching, distinguished professor of preaching, director of the Southwestern Center for Expository Preaching, and George W. Truett Chair of Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Allen has authored numerous articles and chapters in multi-authored works, as well as several expository commentaries and monographs. Most recently, Allen has released a mammoth tome focused on the extent of the person and work of Christ in the atonement.

It is important to note at the outset that Allen is a well-known and longtime critic of Reformed theology. More specifically, Allen has been outspokenly opposed to the Reformed doctrine of limited atonement for as long as I can remember. That said, as readers look to approach The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review, it is reasonable to expect that Allen would produce a volume firmly situated within such conclusions. I am here to report that the theological outcome of this volume comes as no surprise! Where the surprise will surface for most readers is in the historical/theological depth with which Allen guides the reader.

The Extent of the Atonement is divided into three major sections: (1) the extent of the atonement in Church history, (2) the extent of the atonement in the Baptist tradition, and (3) the extent of the atonement: a critical review. The first two major sections are somewhat self-explanatory in their content. Allen surveys nearly every significant historical and modern figure that concerned themselves, intentional or not, with issues related to the extent of the atonement. The third major section offers a lengthy, chapter-by-chapter and point-by-point review of the widely praised From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. For those who have previously interacted with this work, the cover price of the present volume is well-worth a glimpse into Allen’s engagement with those authors.

There is much to be praised about this volume. For starters, I was happy to see the threefold emphasis that Allen placed on the atonement being aligned in its (1) intent, (2) extent, and (3) application. This is an important aspect of the conversation that, unfortunately, gets overlooked far too often. It is here that the extent of the atonement is rightly positioned within its proper soteriological framework. Second, the level of historical depth and analysis from an Arminian perspective is unparalleled in the market today. Lastly, while I found myself disagreeing with Allen’s analysis more than I found myself agreeing, I appreciated the evenhandedness of his interaction throughout.

There are also a few hesitations or shortcomings about this volume. At least two are worth mentioning at this point. For starters, despite spending nearly a decade researching and writing on the topic, Allen still seems to misrepresent the Reformed understanding of limited atonement in places, especially in the case where exegesis is the driving force of the conversation. Second, I failed to find anything, by way of an argument against limited atonement that was breakthrough or revolutionary. That is, I was honestly unable to find anything in this volume that hasn’t been discussed or addressed elsewhere by both sides of the conversation. Still, it should be noted at this point that the level of detail of Allen’s work, including the different directions of approach, is in a caliber of its own.

The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review by David L. Allen is a massive theological achievement. To say that Allen is exhaustive is an understatement. It is theologically informed and pastorally sensitive. Allen has done his homework (to one degree or another) and presented the reader with a tour de force through the theological trenches of the atonement. For whom did Christ die? Allen contends that Christ died to make salvation possible for all. Those who agree with Allen’s conclusions will now possess a significant work to interact with and refer to often. Others will likely leave unaffected. Nonetheless, placing theological persuasions aside, David L. Allen has written an unavoidable book for anyone who would seek to approach the subject of atonement. While Allen and I don’t see eye-to-eye on the matter, I have to admit; this book was much better than I initially anticipated. It comes highly recommended!

Review: Inductive Bible Study

29227863The amount of books concentrated on biblical interpretation published in the last two decades is astonishing. These books are generally situated within the academic guild and tend to categorize themselves under the disciplinary umbrella of biblical hermeneutics. Other books tend to fall into the more popular-level category of inductive Bible study—a method concerned with discovering the meaning of the text based upon evidence (induction) rather than assumption (deduction). The importance of both approaches should be undeniable to every student of the Bible, but blending the two is rarely attempted. It is here that Inductive Bible Study: Observation, Interpretation, and Application through the Lenses of History, Literature, and Theology by Al Fuhr and Andreas J. Köstenberger provide readers something that is both unique and timely to the present landscape of interpretive resources.

Inductive Bible Study brings together the most recent advances in Evangelical scholarship and pairs it with a blended approach to inductive Bible study. That is, Fuhr and Köstenberger found their approach on the hermeneutical-triad (history, literature, and theology) while utilizing an inductive methodological framework (observation, interpretation, and application) to accomplish this task. The book is divided into four units. The opening section of the book discusses the task of biblical interpretation and outlines the various principles of inductive study. This is a perfect entry point for both novice and seasoned readers, as Fuhr and Köstenberger do an excellent job setting the stage for the pages that follow. The second section concentrates on the “Observation” aspect of inductive Bible study, including comparing translations, asking proper questions of the text, and detecting unique literary and discourse features. Fuhr and Köstenberger provide readers with numerous examples to illustrate each observational milestone and position the reader with sufficient information to begin observing in the text almost immediately.

The third section focuses on the “Interpretation” aspect of inductive Bible study. It is here that the foundational nature of the hermenutical-triad is most present within the book. The reader is directed towards the importance of context, interpretive and thematic correlation, lexical study, and more. Fuhr and Köstenberger provide the reader with expert guidance as they illustrate the prominence of proper interpretive skills and equip the reader to discover the meaning of the text in its historical, literary, and theological context. The fourth section focuses on the “Application” aspect of inductive Bible study. At roughly 60 pages, this is the smallest section of the book apart from the introduction. That said, Fuhr and Köstenberger have done an excellent job bringing the prior aspects of inductive study to an appropriate end. Like the other sections, the reader will find numerous examples illustrating the dos and don’ts of application, as well as practical wisdom for establishing relevant application to the modern context. The sensitivity of Fuhr and Köstenberger to this last section brings the laborious task of biblical interpretation to a fruitful and joyous conclusion.

Inductive Bible Study: Observation, Interpretation, and Application through the Lenses of History, Literature, and Theology by Al Fuhr and Andreas Köstenberger is a breath of fresh air for both students and professors. Fuhr and Köstenberger have provided a balanced approach that is both methodologically and theoretically tailored for the contemporary audience. Students will appreciate the abundance of examples throughout, and professors will find the organization and content well-suited for the semester. But, more than that, any serious student of the Bible will be able to engage this book with dividends of lifelong reward. If you are looking for a book that will both instruct and encourage you to read the Bible with care, Inductive Bible Study is easily one of the best and most up-to-date on the market.

Review: Preaching Old Testament Narratives

29011656Benjamin H. Walton is president of PreachingWorks, an organization dedicated to helping pastors make the most of their preaching potential. Walton earned a D.Min. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary where he completed his dissertation on enhancing hermeneutical accuracy in the preaching of Old Testament narratives. Walton is a respected homiletician and has lectured at several colleges and seminaries on a variety of homiletical topics. Most recently, Walton brought the core of his doctoral work to the public with the release of Preaching Old Testament Narratives.

Preaching Old Testament Narratives is a well-organized presentation of Walton’s homiletical excellence, on display for the good of pastors and teachers everywhere. Walton provides tools to help the reader determine the perimeter of narrative (a notoriously difficult task in the genre of Old Testament narrative) and prepares them for the hermeneutical process. Walton makes use of several acronyms throughout as he establishes a methodology and aids the reader’s remembrance for future engagement. Walton encourages the reader to detect a complete unit of thought (CUT), followed by movement from the original theological message (OTM) to the take-home truth (THT). The majority of the book is comprised of Walton’s application of Don Sunukijan’s homiletic to preaching Old Testament narrative (p. 19).

One of the most exciting aspects of Walton’s homiletical approach is his emphasis on preaching entire units of narrative, rather than verse-by-verse or chapter-by-chapter. Moreover, for the sake of such approach, Walton encourages pastors to summarize the narrative while reading the verses that are imperative to the sermon. From experience, I have found this approach to be extremely helpful and engaging for the congregation. It also allows the message of the sermon to hinge on the text rather than the preacher’s words alone. It is here that the organizational emphasis of the book not only instructs the reader on how to preach Old Testament narratives but likewise shows them how to deliver such with excellence.

It is hard work to handle the narratives of the Old Testament with faithfulness to the text. The proclamation and deliverance of any given sermon differ from preacher to preacher, and, to be sure, many reading this book will undoubtedly have old habits that need to be broken if they are going to align themselves with Walton’s methodology. Still, with five pages of praiseworthy endorsements from some of today’s top pastoral minds, Walton’s methods are tried and proven to position the preacher for success. If you, like many others, struggle to preach Old Testament narratives, this is a book that must be read before scheduling your church’s next journey through the Old Testament. It comes highly recommended!

Review: The Epistles of 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter

30010088The Epistles of 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter: Newly Discovered Commentaries edited by Ben Witherington III and Todd D. Still is the final installment in the highly anticipated Lightfoot Legacy Set. Witherington and Still have brought together previously unpublished material on two important New Testament epistles, and included an onslaught of essays and lectures on related topics. The completion of the Lightfoot Legacy Set marks an exciting moment for New Testament scholarship and Lightfoot enthusiasts alike.

Similar to the previous two volumes, the commentary opens with a brief recounting of the story behind the discovery of the Lightfoot manuscripts, as well as an editors’ introduction to the person of Lightfoot as a biblical commentator. The commentary is brief and largely incomplete. There is no formal introduction to the epistle of 2 Corinthians, although the editors have included a 20-page essay on the chronology of Paul. The commentary on 2 Corinthians is comprised of textual notes and transitory comments. It almost appears as if Lightfoot was in the process of organizing information and thoughts for a more detailed exposition of the epistle, but never had the time to complete such a work. The commentary on 1 Peter includes a useful introduction and less than 20-pages of commentary, which abruptly ends on 1 Peter 3:20. The commentary per verse on 1 Peter is generally lengthier than 2 Corinthians, but the Peterine introduction is almost twice the size of the commentary proper.

To fill the remainder of the volume, the editors have included several appendices. The appendix material is comprised of five Lightfoot essays (some published elsewhere) and two honorary essays by James D. G. Dunn and C. K. Barrett. Had the editors of the series not elected to include such material the volume would have been less than 120 pages. While all of these essays are informative and important in their own regard (especially Lightfoot’s 90-page essay on “The Christian Ministry” and his essay on Paul’s preparation for ministry), it is here that the reader is likely to find the biggest weakness with this volume. It does well to round out the three-volume set, but as a standalone resource it provides little commentary substance. That is, the other two volumes in the series offer more opportunity for excitement if a commentary is what you are looking for in this book.

The completion of the Lightfoot Legacy Set provides readers with an exciting window into the mind of one of the most brilliant biblical commentators of the nineteenth century. Readers of all backgrounds and interests will benefit greatly from the wisdom and exegetical care of J. B. Lightfoot. While this final volume will have some shortcomings associated with the reader’s prior expectations of the past two volumes, The Epistles of 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter: Newly Discovered Commentaries is a worthy addition to any biblical/theological library—especially if the previous two volumes already occupy shelf space.