Review: Christ and Covenant Theology

35847115Cornelis P. Venema is President and Professor of Doctrinal Studies at Mid-American Reformed Seminary. Venema has a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary and is the author of several books, such as The Promise of the Future (Banner of Truth, 2000) and Getting the Gospel Right: An Assessment of the Reformation and ‘New Perspectives’ on Paul (Banner of Truth, 2006). He is also a co-editor and frequent contributor to The Outlook and the Mid-American Journal of Theology. Most recent, Venema has assembled together a number of useful essays summarizing and defending various aspects of Covenant Theology.

Christ and Covenant Theology: Essays on Election, Republication, and the Covenants is divided into three parts: (1) the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, (2) covenant and election, and (3) covenant theology in recent discussions. Part one offers an introduction to the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, as Venema argues alongside Westminster Confession of Faith and distinguishes between a pre-fall and post-fall covenant. For Venema, the distinction between these two covenants is vital to understanding God’s redemptive purpose in the person and work of Christ. Part two focuses more narrowly on the topic of election within the realm of covenant. More specifically, as election and covenant relate to the children of believers. Part three seeks to address the contemporary discussions concerning justification and election more broadly within the arena of covenant. Most of Venema’s interaction is with the “Federal Vision” folks, although he does provide a fascinating essay examining N. T. Wright’s interpretation of Romans 5:12-21 as it relates to covenant and justification.

Christ and Covenant Theology is a classic treasure trove of Reformed riches. Those familiar with Venema will appreciate his keen ability to evaluate and examine contemporary issues in view of the confessional Reformed tradition. Venema is both judicious and accessible, though a working understanding of the Reformed confessional tradition is assumed. Still, while readers will likely gravitate towards one of the three parts, it’s interesting to see how Venema naturally allows the whole to hang together. This demonstrates the functional consistency of Venema’s theological conviction and displays his deep familiarity with the Reformed tradition. There will be inevitable disagreement that arises for those in opposition to Reformed theology as articulated by the Westminster Confession of Faith. Nonetheless, most readers approaching this book should have a firm understanding of such differences prior to opening the initial pages. Additionally, it should be noted that most will agree that Venema provides some of the best, most reflective and persuasive material on the various topics intersecting with Covenant Theology.

Thus, agree with him or not, Christ and Covenant Theology: Essays on Election, Republication, and the Covenants by Cornelis P. Venema is nothing short of a must-read resource! It is a collection of essays that cannot be ignored.

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Review: Sons in the Son

31243443David B. Garner is vice president of advancement and associate professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS). Garner received his ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary and PhD from WTS. He is author of How Can I Know for Sure?: Christian Answers to Hard Questions (P&R Publishing, 2014) and editor of the influential work Did God Really Say?: Affirming the Truthfulness and Trustworthiness of Scripture (P&R Publishing, 2014). Garner is well-respected in the academic community and his many research interests culminate in a special concern for the interface of theology and missions. Most recently, Garner has written a classic theological exploration of doctrine adoption.

Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ is a groundbreaking examination of adoption in Pauline thought. Garner divides the study into three parts: (1) hermeneutic, history, and etymology, (2) exegetical and theological survey of key texts, and (3) biblical and systematic theology. This threefold division is intentionally oriented towards Garner’s goal of providing an examination of adoption that moves from divine revelation to theological refection, rather than social and cultural reconstruction to theological conclusion (p. xxv). It is also here that Garner offers a somewhat unique approach to the topic of adoption. In part one, Garner provides readers with a hermeneutical and historical-theological survey of adoption and an exceptional treatment of huiothesia. For Garner, huiothesia “captures the whole scope of filial grace enjoyed by means of the Spirit-wrought union with the resurrected Son of God” (p. 54). In part two, the readers are judiciously guided through the three major Pauline huiothesia passages, including Ephesians 1:3-6, Galatians 4:4-7, Romans 8:15-17 and 22-23. Finally, in part three, Garner gathers everything together and begins to uncover the systematic thread of adoption as it joins the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of salvation in the Ordo Salutis and union with Christ.

Sons in the Son is a phenomenal work, full of rich theological reflection and practical wisdom. The organization is appropriate for road traveled and readers will appreciate Garner’s detailed knowledge of the subject. Because the majority of literature on adoption is saturated with social and cultural reconstructions, some readers may be slightly dissatisfied with Garner’s theological approach. There is something to be said about the social and cultural practice of adoption in the Greco-Roman world and how such informed the biblical metaphor in Pauline thought, but the approach that Garner takes seems to offer a more sustainable reflection upon the overall scope behind the metaphor rather than the metaphor itself. That is, these perceived shortcomings are actually a strength when taken within context of the purpose of Garner’s exploration.

Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ by David B. Garner is both timely and timeless. Garner is comprehensive, clear, and readable. I’m honestly flabbergasted that other contemporary Reformed theological minds haven’t attempted to write this book. It’s so basic to the heart of the gospel. But, then again, I’m so very thankful that Garner was the one to do it! It is without a shadow of a doubt that Garner has written one of the most important books of 2017. If you’re looking for a book that with alter how you view and think about the relationship between salvation and Christ, then Sons in the Son should be at the top of your list. I couldn’t recommend it more strongly!

Review: The Essential Trinity

prpbooks-images-covers-md-9781629952987The Essential Trinity: New Testament Foundations and Practical Relevance edited by Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman is a collection of essays by leading New Testament scholars and theologians who have built a career upon the importance of the Trinity to Christian doctrine— including well-known individuals, such as Richard Bauckham, Benjamin L. Gladd, and Michael Reeves. The essays offer a biblical-theological exploration through the New Testament and culminate with a number of essays that survey the practical relevance of the Trinity in the Christian life.

The Essential Trinity is naturally divided into the two parts detailed within its subtitle: (1) New Testament foundations and (2) practical relevance. The initial part comprises the majority of the book and each chapter takes on a specific New Testament subcorpus. For example, Brandon D. Crowe addresses the Trinity in the Gospel of Mark and Brian S. Rosner takes up Paul and the Trinity. The entire New Testament is handled in eight essays and the initial section closes with a brief essay on the Trinity and the Old Testament. The second section brings the exegetical rigor to a much-needed culmination with essays on the relevance of the Trinity to prayer, revelation, worship, and preaching. The second section does much to establish the widespread importance of Trinitarian theology to nearly every aspect of Christian existence.

The book itself is a refreshing treasure-trove of exegetical riches. The overall presentation and organization of the book is superb, and readers will appreciate the level of detail explored as a consistent witness is uncovered across the New Testament. Bauckham’s essay on the Gospel of John was phenomenal, as most will expect. That said, Jonathan I. Griffiths’ essay on Hebrews was among the best in the book. It is worth the price of the alone. Recognizing the scope of the volume as a New Testament engagement, readers should evaluate the major shortcoming of the book as minimally impactful—a lack of Old Testament engagement. There was a clears sense in the book of the value and importance of the Old Testament to the New Testament foundation that was explored, and some authors explicitly brought such into their essay (e.g. Benjamin Gladd on Revelation). It would have been extremely useful to see further exploration of the Old Testament Trinitarian themes that include Old Testament scholars both exploring shadows of the concept and putting to rest many of the misconceptions propagated in contemporary Christian thought. Again, this is a major shortcoming of the volume, but also recognizably beyond its scope.

The Essential Trinity: New Testament Foundations and Practical Relevance edited by Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman is undoubtedly one of the most useful books on the Trinity in recent years. Apart from the shortcoming mentioned above, it is hard to think of a more well-rounded and exegetically sound engagement on the Trinity. It comes highly recommended!

Review: Theology in Three Dimensions

35999474.jpgJohn M. Frame is Emeritus Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Frame received an MA and MPhil from Yale University and a DD from Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi. Frame is the author or contributor of numerous books, including Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology, and the four-volume Theology of Lordship series. Frame is a brilliant and distinguished Christian thinker in the Reformed tradition, and well-known for the concept of Triperspectivalism—a revolutionary approach to understanding the world (and everything therein) from three distinct perspectives. Triperspectivalism threads itself through nearly everything that Frame does, and, until now, readers would need to explore his entire corpus to develop a succinct portrait of the concept. It is here that Theology in Three Dimensions: A Guide to Triperspectivalism and Its Significance offers readers a concise look into the methodology and rationale for Frame’s three-fold approach.

Theology in Three Dimensions appropriately begins with a brief discussion on perspectives. Frame unpacks the collaborative effort of Vern Poythress in the development of the approach and helpfully demonstrates the basic construct of Triperspectivalism. A perspective, according to Frame, “is the position from which a person sees something . . . the angle from which he looks” (p. 2). For Frame, because God is triune in nature, inevitably the world around us (the creation of the triune God) reflects his triunity in the abundance of triads that dot its existence. Theology in Three Dimensions is primarily concerned with showing such theologically and biblically, and thus Frame’s discussion focuses on three perspectives: (1) the normative, (2) the situational, and (3) the existential perspectives.

The normative perspective is concerned with what ought to be (obligations), rather than what is (p. 53). That is, the normative perspective is a perspective of knowledge that views the world as a revelation of God’s will (p. 95). Frame notes, “the normative perspective includes everything that God has made and everything that God has said to us” (p. 57). The situational perspective is concerned with the states of affairs or the objects of knowledge—facts. That is, the situational perspective focuses on the objects in the world rather than the norms that ought to be in the world. As Frame differentiates, “laws and facts, norms and situations, describe one world—God’s world—from two perspectives” (p. 62). The existential perspective is a perspective of human knowledge that focuses on our internal subjective experience in close proximity to the presence of God (p. 94). That is, the existential perspective is closely related to the concept of knowledge of self. Each of these perspectives holds together within themselves and offer triadic layers within layers.

Theology in Three Dimensions is a fascinating read. It’s brief and can be read in a single sitting. That said, while Frame is a gifted communicator and a prolific writer, most readers will need to read it more than once to see how the concept fits together. Chapters 2-4 further elaborate on the nature of perspectives, while chapters 5-7 spend more time unpacking each of the perspectives individually. Where readers will most likely find satisfaction in Frame’s book (apart from a clear concise presentation of the far-reaching nature of Triperspectivalism) is chapter 8—what to do with perspectives. Here Frame takes the concept of Triperspectivalism and applies it (briefly) to various aspects of life, such as salvation, the word of God, philosophy, apologetics, and even pedagogy. So, what’s the big deal with Triperspectivalism? “It keeps us focused on the biblical bottom line,” Frame continues, “that God is nothing less than the Lord, and that his lordship is fully revealed in Jesus Christ . . . everything we do as Christians should be done to Jesus as Lord” (p. 89).

If you are looking for a quick introduction to one of the most revolutionary ways to view the world and teach the Bible, then Theology in Three Dimensions: A Guide to Triperspectivalism and Its Significance by John M. Frame is an essential read. It will not only change the way that you interact with the Bible, it will change the way that you interact with God! It comes highly recommended!

Review: The Fear of the Lord Is Wisdom

32510942Tremper Longman III is Distinguished Scholar of Biblical Studies and Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. Longman is no stranger to the world of ancient wisdom literature. He received a PhD in Ancient Near Eastern Studies from Yale University and has authored numerous related books and articles, including widely used commentaries on Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Psalms. Most recently, Longman has brought together his over three decades of reflection and academic rigor on biblical wisdom into a theological introduction that synchronically traces the theme both inside and out of the Old Testament.

The Fear of the Lord is Wisdom: A Theological Introduction to Wisdom in Israel establishes the genre of wisdom literature as more than mere practical or ethical sayings that arose amid cultural challenges of the ancient world. Longman meticulously surveys the literature and demonstrates a consistent and coherent theological category that threads the redemptive-historical narrative. It is a thrilling and comprehensive study that does much to add value to the genre for contemporary audiences.

Longman divides the book into five parts: (1) the heart of wisdom: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job, (2) wisdom elsewhere in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy, Psalms, Song of Songs, etc.), (3) Israel’s wisdom: cosmopolitan or unique?, (4) further refining our understanding of wisdom, and (5) the afterlife of Israel’s wisdom (Apocrypha, Dead Sea Scrolls, and New Testament). As Longman opens The Fear of the Lord is Wisdom, a survey of the most forward presenting Old Testament wisdom books commence with the establishment of a theological foundation— “that the fear of the Lord is the proper response to God’s wisdom . . . [and] is fundamentally the result of a relationship with God” (p. 62). Longman does acknowledge the practical and ethical side of wisdom as a theme in these books, but uses the section to uncover the theological emphasis that undergirds each of them for the forthcoming pages.

In part two, Longman carefully looks at wisdom observable elsewhere in the Old Testament. For Longman, this does not necessarily mean that such should be considered as “wisdom” literature (see appendix 2), but it does mean that “they contribute to our understanding of the nature of wisdom” (p. 64). The reader is guided through wisdom found in Deuteronomy, Psalms, Song of Songs, and a few prophets. Longman also examines four pivotal Old Testament figures, including Joseph, Daniel, Adam, and Solomon. In part three and four, Longman further establishes his theological premise as he addresses the nature and understanding of wisdom in general. For Longman, the source of true wisdom is God according to the books that speak of wisdom (p. 126). Longman does well to address the consequence of wise and foolish behavior, and helpfully guides readers away from a rigid understanding of retribution theology.

Lastly, in part five, Longman engages both the Second Temple period and the New Testament. There is significant continuity demonstrated between the Old Testament and the New, and Longman rightly identifies Jesus as “the epitome of God’s wisdom, or, perhaps better, the very incarnation of God’s wisdom” (p. 256). Thus, much of the theological notions that were found in the wisdom core (part one) are not only present in the New Testament, but they are incarnate. Longman concludes, “the church is called to relationship with him and to inculcate and demonstrate the same fear that is the beginning of wisdom . . . Christians are God-fearers who submit to the instruction of Christ . . . in all of life” (p. 256).

Longman has provided a much-needed theological engagement with the wisdom of the Old Testament. I appreciated that Longman sought to balance the practical and ethical aspects of wisdom within an underlying theological framework. Longman has done much to detail and demonstrate the theological significance of biblical wisdom, and thus, has removed the prior misunderstandings concerning its origin and use in ancient Israel. It would have been interesting to see how wisdom penetrates pseudepigraphical works of the Second Temple period, or possibly other noncanoical work subsequent to the New Testament. That said, the comprehensive scope of The Fear of the Lord is Wisdom demonstrates a strange familiarity with biblical wisdom that few scholars apart from Longman could exhibit.

The Fear of the Lord is Wisdom: A Theological Introduction to Wisdom in Israel by Tremper Longman III is a fascinating display of biblical theology that uncovers a life-giving aspect of biblical wisdom, bringing a fresh sense of relevance to a seemingly stagnate body of literature. Longman is exhaustive and comprehensive, but readable and accessible. There are few books on the market that provide the level of breadth and depth regarding biblical wisdom as Longman has demonstrated here. This is an important book that should be used and read widely. It comes highly recommended.

Review: Old Testament Law for Christians

9780801049040Roy E. Gane is Professor of Hebrew and Ancient Near Eastern Languages at Seventh-Day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Gane received an MA and PhD from University of California, Berkeley, and has authored numerous books, including a commentary on Leviticus and Numbers in the NIV Application Commentary series. Most recently, Gane has provided a comprehensive volume on Old Testament Law that will help Christians better understand and apply such to everyday life.

Old Testament Law for Christians: Original Context and Enduring Application aims to “show Christians how OT laws are relevant, interesting, accessible, and useful; how to navigate around them; how to uncover their wise values; and how to arrive at answers to questions regarding their interpretation and application to modern life” (p. xiv). The book has been divided into four major sections: (1) Getting into Old Testament Law, (2) Literature and Background of Old Testament Law, (3) Applying Old Testament Laws, and (4) Values in Old Testament Law. These divisions provide a logical order in support of the overall objective of the book, and thus, most of the content is naturally centralized within parts 3 and 4.

Gane is a well-known and accomplished scholar of Biblical Law, and the scope of Old Testament Law for Christians demonstrates such with minimal effort. In part one, Gane offers justification and rationale for the relevance of OT law for New Covenant Christians. Gane focuses on Jesus and Paul’s view of OT law and sketches the trajectory. Gane also devotes a fair amount of space to the introduction of Old Testament law prior to establishing the contextual background in part two. Gane is especially strong on areas of literature and background of OT law, and the attentive reader will glean insight after insight as they follow him in the second section.

In part three, Gane introduces the difficult task of application and spends a portion of the time surveying the various approaches advocated both past and present. Those who appreciate methodology will enjoy Gane’s discussion here. Gane contends for a Progressive Moral Wisdom (PMW) approach to understanding and applying Old Testament law. There are five components of a PMW model: (1) analyze the law by itself, (2) analyze the law within the system of OT laws, (3) further analyze the law within the content of its ancient life situation, (4) analyze the law within the process of redemption, and (5) relate findings regarding the function of the law to modern life (p. 202-203). Then, after detailing the PMW model, Gane uses Exodus 23:4 as a test case for readers to engage the approach and witness its benefit. His approach is firmly built upon a solid hermeneutical methodology and readers will do well to take notes.

In part four, the reader is taken on a tour de force into the world of OT law. Here Gane addresses the Decalogue in two chapters before considering additional law related issues, such as the value of social justice and ritual laws, OT law and theodicy, etc. Gane also provides a sizable chapter on keeping OT laws today, where he specifically addresses the OT laws that seem most strange to the modern reader, including various occurrences of forbidden mixtures, vast dietary restrictions, sex during menstruation, etc. Gane is reliably informative and pastorally sensitive to the difficulty that Christians face concerning the implications of these issues, and the reader will appreciate the candor and attention that is found therein. Gane is constantly canonically oriented in his approach and keen to offer explanations for New Covenant Christians.

Old Testament Law for Christians is outstanding as an introduction to OT law and equally as helpful as a hermeneutical model. That said, for many readers, I am confident that there will be inevitable disagreement with Gane at several points during the journey. Gane is unashamedly honest when his conclusion differs with the common position among Christians (especially in the chapter titled “Questions about Keeping the Old Testament Laws Today”). Still, his consistency is to be commended despite disagreement. Where most readers will find Gane helpful is in parts 3 and 4. Overall, Gane has succeeded in his objective and does much to elevate the usefulness of the OT law for New Covenant Christians. Gane removes an unfortunate false dichotomy in the contemporary church and encourages Christians to take the Torah as serious as Jesus and Paul. The Progressive Moral Wisdom approach is properly established and the outcome is a step in a much-needed direction.

Old Testament Law for Christians: Original Context and Enduring Application by Roy E. Gane is a timely resource. Gane has provided a comprehensive examination of OT law that will serve the New Covenant people of God for years to come. Any shortcomings will be found in the inevitable disagreement that arises out of a topic as such addressed here. That said, shortcomings aside, while I didn’t agree with Gane on every turn, I am very pleased to recommend this much-needed book.

Review: Exodus (AOTC)

35160440T. Desmond Alexander is Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies and Director of Postgraduate Studies at Union Theological College in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Alexander received a Ph.D. from The Queen’s University of Belfast and is author or coauthor of numerous books, including From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch, From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology, and Exodus: Teach the Text. Alexander is also general editor of the widely used New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring the Unity and Diversity of Scripture and Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch. In his most recent work, Alexander has brought together decades of disciplined scholarship and devotion on Exodus to a growing and increasingly useful commentary series on the Old Testament.

Exodus: Apollos Old Testament Commentary begins with a 32-page introduction. Alexander has covered much of the necessary introductory matters with care and rigor, including the story and literary context of Exodus, its relationship to the Old Testament and New, structure, authorship, date, the placement of Exodus in history, and more. It is evident that Alexander is familiar with scholarship on Exodus both New and Old, and he does a tremendous service by surveying the issues while remaining conclusively agnostic where the evidence demands no commitment (e.g. Authorship and Date). Alexander is unashamed and open about his Christian commitments and how such inevitably makes its way onto the pages of the book. Alexander notes, “I write from the position of believing that the book of Exodus carries an authority that is of divine origin, being more than simply the product of a human author” (p. xi). Despite some lacking material that readers may expect, overall, most will appreciate the care that Alexander takes in handling the introductory matters.

The commentary proper is impressive. Alexander follows the organization of the series well and provides several excurses along the way. Alexander offers readers an original translation of the Hebrew text, including ample notes on various aspects of the text and translation. He also offers comments around the form and structure of the larger units of text, verse-by-verse commentary, and an explanation of the text within the broader framework of biblical theology. The translation that Alexander provides is readable and the annotations offer the reader a goldmine of textual information. Truthfully, the translation and notes are easily worth the price of the commentary, which says volumes because Alexander is strongest in the explanation section. The comments on the individual verses offer a balance of depth and understanding, but Alexander’s ability to pull everything together under the umbrella of biblical theology is simply unparalleled in relation to other commentaries. Alexander can extract various themes with detail and depth, and still never lose sight of the peripheral narrative of the Old and New Testament.

There isn’t much not to appreciate about Alexander’s work here. The introduction is somewhat small considering the size of the commentary, and while Alexander provides sufficient contact with the needed information, some readers will lament the omission of a formal outline after his survey of the structure of the book, among other things. For perspective, the bibliography alone is roughly 50% larger than the entire introduction. Thus, those looking for detailed interaction with introductory matters should consult an introduction to the Old Testament or From Paradise to the Promised Land (p. 187-223). Where readers will find Alexander’s work helpful, both the introduction and beyond, is his constant engagement with critical theories from a conservative perspective—especially the Documentary Hypothesis. Alexander is always generous and charitable, and regardless of conviction, readers of all backgrounds and theological persuasions should find useful interaction therein.

Exodus: Apollos Old Testament Commentary by T. Desmond Alexander is a comprehensive, up-to-date examination that leaves readers with little left to want from a commentary. Alexander is a seasoned scholar and an established biblical-theological voice. The organization and structure of the commentary allows Alexander to display his strengths, and the reader will benefit over and over again. I had several preferred commentaries on Exodus before Alexander, including Enns, Stuart, and Durham. After reading Alexander, I can say with confidence that it will be the first to leave my shelf, and possibly the only. If you’re looking for a commentary on the book of Exodus that offers a comprehensive balance between depth and devotion, then Exodus by T. Desmond Alexander is the recommendation for the foreseeable future. I couldn’t recommend it more strongly.