Category: Biblical Studies

Review: Paul the Ancient Letter Writer

61RDHTMFyTLJeffrey A. D. Weima is a household name in the arena of Pauline Studies. Weima is Professor of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary and author of several academic publications, including a massive commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series and the groundbreaking work Neglected Endings: The Significance of the Pauline Letter Closings (Sheffield Academic Press, 1994). Most recently, building off of his expertise as a Pauline scholar, Weima has produced a masterful book on Pauline letter writing, Paul the Ancient Letter Writer: An Introduction to Epistolary Analysis. 

Paul the Ancient Letter Writer is a magnificent book that (almost) instantly allows readers to see the value and importance of reading a biblical letter as a letter, more specifically an ancient letter of the Greco-Roman period. This is a basic hermeneutical rule that often gets overlooked by the average reader and vitally import for every pastor and teacher seeking to communicate the Bible accurately and effectively. Paul the Ancient Letter Writer contains a brief introduction, a helpful test case on Philemon, and four major chapters covering the four major parts of an epistle: (1) the opening, (2) the thanksgiving, (3) the body, and (4) the closing. Each of the four major chapters offers a detailed analysis of various (and diverse) epistolary conventions found within each major part of an epistle.

Where most attention is usually going to be directed towards the body of a letter, Weima does an excellent job showing the importance of each of the major parts of a letter. For example, Weima demonstrates the great interpretive significance discovered in the opening of a letter. He explains an example of such insight, writing, “the sender formula brings the letter opening to a definitive close in a comparable way that the corresponding peace benediction and grace benediction mark out the letter closing and so bring Paul’s correspondence to a definitive close” (p. 44). For Paul, the opening formula actually shapes the boundaries of the correspondence. This is seen in another example found in the closing section, where Weima articulates the peculiar importance of the various conventions observed in the closing of Paul’s letters—namely the peace benediction, the hortatory section, the greetings, the autograph, and the grace benediction.

For those who find joy in the discovery of interpretive treasures of Scripture, Paul the Ancient Letter Writer: An Introduction to Epistolary Analysis by Jeffrey A. D. Weima is both a clear and captivating example that there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to go about reading Paul’s letters and the insights from this volume pay dividends immediately. This would be an excellent companion textbook in a New Testament course, especially where the genre of epistle encompasses a majority of the coursework. It would also do well in an intermediate or advanced hermeneutics course. While the book is rather detail oriented at times, I still found it to be easily accessible and refreshingly saturated with helpful charts and images of Weima’s analysis of Paul’s letters.

This is a book that I am afraid many will overlook. That said, if you’re reading this review, don’t let yourself be one of those sad individuals. Get a copy today. Trust me! It comes highly recommended.

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Review: God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views

81MwvV6VpNLSome of the most helpful books in the field of biblical and theological studies have come in the form of multiview dialogs. These books are especially useful for laity looking to survey the landscape of ideas, and the format is exceptional for argument analysis. The most recent of these books, from the Spectrum Multiview Books series, seeks to address an age-old problem with a bit of modern flare—God and the problem of evil.

God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views edited by Chad Meister and James K. Dew Jr. brings together five theological minds with very different views of God and the reconciliation of such to the existence of evil in the world. The book is comprised of two parts. Part one is a positive presentation of each of the five views. Phillip Cary represents the classical theist view, arguing that no evil takes place unless God permits it, and in doing so, his purpose is for a greater good to be brought about in the world. William Lane Craig represents the Molinist view, arguing that divine middle knowledge essentially becomes the solution to the problem. William Hasker represents the open theist view and argues that God created humanity as free creatures. Thus, it is impossible for him to know with certainty what they would do in any given situation. Thomas Oord represented a modified open theist view which he refers to as an essential kenosis view. Oord argues that God, for the sake of love, emptied (kenosis) himself of the ability to control the actions and effects of free creatures, and thus, is unable to stop evil from taking place. Lastly, Stephan Wykstra represents a more philosophically abstract approach to the problem of evil which is labeled the skeptical theism view.

The second part of the book comprises the responses of each contributor to the other contributors’ essays. Each response essay is brief and curated into a single chapter. For example, Cary’s response essay interacts with Craig, Hasker, Oord, and Wykstra in a single chapter. In my experience, the format of the book hasn’t provided as much room for interaction, and actually, makes the book more difficult to navigate then if the each response followed the positive presentation in the first section (e.g. each contributor interacts with a single view immediately following the positive presentation). Consequently, while the content of the interaction between the views is helpful, it is rather brief and sometimes seems outright dismissive (e.g. Hasker’s interaction with Carey). That said this is the biggest shortcoming to an otherwise excellent display of scholarly engagement on a very important and far reaching theological topic.

God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views edited by Chad Meister and James K. Dew Jr. offers an up-to-date engagement with the current landscape on one of the most theologically problematic questions to meet the modern age: if an all-loving and all-powerful God exists, then why is there so much evil in the world? Despite the lackluster organization of the response section, the book shines with deep theological reflection and worthwhile interaction. It’s a well-done primer that I wouldn’t have any problem recommending to others interested in the topic. Trust me, its worth the reflection!

Review: Embodied Hope

91jQapQkEyLIf one thing is certain about life on earth, it’s that pain and suffering are inevitable realities regardless of who you are or where you grew up. There has been much Christian literature written to mend this reality and provide hope for a hurting world, and rightly so. But, few of these books have actually sought to share in the lament of human suffering, as they seem to be more focused on providing canned Christian answers that explain away the problem than actually dealing with the reality of suffering itself. Fortunately, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering by Kelly M. Kapic has provided a much-needed breath of fresh air that is both theologically grounded and biblically sensitive.

Kelly M Kapic is professor of theological studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. Kapic received his PhD from King’s College, University of London and is the author or editor of several books, including A Little Book for New Theologians and Mapping Modern Theology.

Embodied Hope is somewhat of a personal memoir about pain and suffering in the life of the author. As Kapic notes, “although I have a PhD, I find that I rarely know what I think—really think—about something until I have had to write about it . . . therefore, after a few years, and under the encouragement of others—including my wife—I have aimed to wrestle through some of these questions in a more public manner” (p. 3). Still, Embodied Hope is not a personal memoir, but a theological entry ramp into a much larger conversation concerning who we are in this world and how we relate to God therein. “This book will make no attempt to defend God,” Kapic writes, “I will not try to justify God or explain away the physical suffering in this world. Instead, I wrestle with nagging questions about our lives, our purpose, and our struggles” (p. 7-8). This gives the book a very raw, but surprisingly polished and organic feeling.

Embodied Hope is comprised of three parts: (1) the struggle, (2) the strangeness of God, and (3) life together. Kapic recognizes the problem, articulates how God identifies with us through the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and finally provides a solution (if it can be called such) in a community-driven model of life. The heart of the book is discovered in the second section. Kapic points the reader to Jesus as a model for embodied hope. Still, the most rewarding and encouraging section (apart from the necessary road to be traveled in the person and work of Christ), in my opinion, is the destination of the book—namely that life should be lived together in faithful perseverance in Christ.

Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering by Kelly M. Kapic is a book on a familiar topic, done in a not so familiar way. Kapic is deeply entrenched, both personally and professionally, in the realities that knock at the door of every human being. Kapic is bold and unashamed of the suffering that he and his family face, because he knows that it will bring glory to Christ. But, more than that, Kapic is confident that hope—embodied hope—is made manifest in the person and work of Christ, and lived out in faithfulness and community. This is a book that accomplishes what it sets out to do. Kapic does not defend God, he provides hope. Kapic does not offer theological remedies, he demonstrates true theological meditation. Healing and comfort are found within these pages, and I can think of no reason not to recommend Embodied Hope, because everyone will need it at some point.

Review: A Little Book for New Bible Scholars

71bb1S-8gOL.jpgThe world of biblical studies is both strange and dangerous at times. Many enter into the field with very different aspirations and dreams than when they leave. This can be due to a lack of guidance going into Seminary or a lack of mentorship exiting. A Little Book for New Bible Scholars by E. Randolph Richards and Joseph R. Dodson is an excellent volume that offers seasoned advice and insight from two capable biblical scholars.

E. Randolph Richards is dean and professor of biblical studies in the School of Ministry at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Richards received his Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author and coauthor of several books, including Paul Behaving Badly and Paul and First-Century Letter Writing. Joseph R. Dodson is associate professor of biblical studies at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Dodson received his Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen and is the author of The “Powers” of Personification.

A Little Book for New Bible Scholars is a primer of sorts to the world of biblical studies. Richards and Dodson point readers towards the necessity of falling in love with the study of the Bible, and yet they don’t shy away from the dangers that linger for those who “study” too much. Richards and Dodson also do an excellent job displaying the need for humility that accompanies the field of biblical studies. Richards and Dodson wittingly write, “the field of biblical studies reminds me that I am always only sometimes right” (p. 24). The authors encourage readers towards doing the difficult work of good exegesis because it is here that the life-giving message of the Scriptures comes alive—both personally and professionally (p. 52). Lastly, Richards and Dodson speak to the importance of communicating correctly for your audience, humility, and endurance.

There is much to be praised about this volume. First, despite its small size, Richard and Dodson have packed it full of useful nuggets of wisdom. As a biblical studies major who holds three degrees in the field, I greatly admired the tone of the book and the manner in which Richards and Dodson spoke of the academic field to which we have devoted our lives. Second, while this book is targeted towards beginners, it is also an excellent and appropriate reminder for those seasoned in the field or even those who simply love to read and study the Bible. Lastly, I found the chapter “Biblical Studies is an Equal Opportunity Vocation” to be both refreshing and necessary. This inclusion is vital to the health and wellbeing of both the Church and the field of biblical studies. I commend them for the inclusion of this chapter and echo their encouragement for “female, black, Hispanic, and non-Western scholars to step up and do the hard work of biblical studies” (p. 79).

There are few books that I would classify as essential reads for those entering into Seminary with an eye towards biblical studies, but A Little Book for New Bible Scholars by E. Randolph Richards and Joseph R. Dodson is certainly one of them. This is a delightful volume that will encourage and equip you for the road ahead. Richards and Dodson have done a tremendous job and I would gladly recommend it to incoming students and friends in the future!

Book Review: What They Don’t Tell You

235949_1_ftcMichael Joseph Brown is Academic Dean, Interim President, and Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Payne Theological Seminary. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Vanderbilt University, as well as a Master of Divinity degree and Doctor of Philosophy degree from University of Chicago.  Brown has authored a number of books, including, Blackening of the Bible: The Aims of African American Biblical Scholarship, The Lord’s Prayer through North African Eyes: A Window into Early Christianity, and What They Don’t Tell You: A Survivor’s Guide to Biblical Studies.

Originally published in August 2000, What They Don’t Tell You has sought from the beginning to equip and prepare incoming students with a general survey and exposure to the underbelly of biblical studies. Now, 15 years later, an up-to-date second edition has entered into the marketplace with a fine-tuned appearance and revised content. Brown rightly acknowledges that the milieu of biblical scholarship has shifted slightly since the original publication of the book, and sought to address accordingly. Consequently, Brown has added additional “rules of thumb” and an appendix that the reader is sure to find helpful.

What They Don’t Tell You remains organized in a logical manner to best cultivate the needs to the student or interested reader. The book opens with a brief introduction to the world of biblical studies, juxtaposing the aims of devotional bible study with that of an academic study of the bible. Here Brown offers an excellent survey of the history of biblical scholarship, as well as an overview of the various methods of biblical interpretation. The remainder of the book presents 29 “rules of thumb” that are thematically ordered around: (1) reading and interpreting the Bible, (2) understanding biblical scholarship, and (3) surviving the newfound understanding presented by Brown.

The list of “rules” comprising this book, according to Brown, are “not [meant to be taken as] exhaustive, nor are they meant to be taken as hard-and-fast rules that can never be broken” (xii). This explains Brown’s choice to label them “rules of thumb” rather than merely “rules.” But, this also displays a potential shortcoming of the book as a rule of thumb is somewhat subject and largely variegated in nature depending on who you ask. In other words, the book should be understood as more of a list of Brown’s personal rules of thumb when approaching the topics, rather than a list of concrete list for biblical studies in general.  Still, I think Brown has brought together a thorough list of important considerations when approaching the subject of biblical studies. His effort is surely not aimless.

What They Don’t Tell You is a wonderful primer to the world of biblical studies. Brown has provided an engaging and timely revision to a well-received book. Be prepared for occasional disagreement with Brown’s “rules of thumb,” but don’t be too quick to through the baby out with the bathwater. If you are interested in entering the arena of biblical studies, Brown will certainly get your feet wet with the right kind of water. It comes recommended from this reader.

Commentaries: General Epistles

In the first post, we took a brief look at some the commentaries that I have found to be most helpful in my studies of the Gospels and Acts. In the last post we looked at the Pauline epistles, and in this post we will turn attention to the remainder of the New Testament—outlining the commentaries that I have found most helpful in my studies of the general epistles.

At the offset it is important to note that I don’t particularly agree with the conclusion of every commentary listed, and there are a number of excellent commentaries that I have not included because I do not own them. This is not intended to be exhaustive. But, rather a concise list of commentaries that I have and continue to find helpful both in my graduate and personal studies.

I hope that you found these next several posts helpful. If you have any questions or would like a more detailed opinion on a book mentioned (or not mentioned), please feel free to comment below.


Hebrews

The book of Hebrews is arguably the most densely populated and theologically significant New Testament writing. One could spend every day of his life within the boundaries of the book and find full satisfaction in its riches. Below are some of the commentaries that I have found especially helpful in working through Hebrews:


James 

The book of James is a document that has recently developed into a personal interest of mine. It’s short and sweet, but packs mountain of misunderstanding. There are several excellent commentaries on James and the following are some that I have found helpful:


1 Peter 

There are a number of well known and well-loved commentaries on the epistle of first Peter. A few that I have found helpful are as follows:


2 Peter & Jude

2 Peter and Jude are two epistles that display clear parallels and will typically be commented on together. There are several wonderful commentaries available for these two epistles, but there are a few that I have found especially helpful while navigating these difficult letters:


1, 2, & 3 John

The Johannine epistles are filled with some of the most precious and loved words in the New Testament, and the attestation of such is evident in the number of commentaries available. A few commentaries that I have found invaluable in studying these letters are as follows:


Revelation

The book of Revelation is easily the most misunderstood and abused book in the New Testament. Consequently, the number of commentaries that have been written on this book are uncountable. Nevertheless I have found that there are a number of extremely helpful commentaries:

Commentaries: Pauline Epistles

In the last post we took a brief look at some the commentaries that I have found to most helpful in my studies of the Gospels and Acts. In this post we will turn attention to the bulk of the New Testament, as I seek to outline the commentaries that I have found most helpful in my studies of the Pauline epistles.

At the offset it is important to note that I don’t particularly agree with the conclusion of every commentary listed, and there are a number of excellent commentaries that I have not included because I do not own them. This is not intended to be exhaustive. But, rather a concise list of commentaries that I have and continue to find helpful both in my graduate and personal studies.

I hope that you found these next several posts helpful. If you have any questions or would like a more detailed opinion on a book mentioned (or not mentioned), please feel free to comment below.


 Romans

Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is likely the most commented on book in the entire New Testament. History has boasted an uncountable number of commentaries on Romans, and the chances that the church is done publishing on this beloved letter are slim. The following are commentaries that I have found helpful while navigating the book of Romans:


1 Corinthians

Paul’s first epistle to Corinth has produced many helpful and interesting commentaries—typically the case with an letter that contains disputed passage. The following are some of may favorite commentaries on 1 Corinthians:


2 Corinthians

While less theologically controversial than 1 Corinthians, Paul’s second epistle to the church in Corinth surprisingly boasts a good number of commentaries. The following are some of my most used:


Galatians

In terms of theological significance and cutting edge biblical debates Galatians has always found itself amid the discussions. Consequently there are a plethora of excellent commentaries. The following are a few that I have found especially helpful:


Ephesians

The epistle to the Ephesians is rich with biblical treasures. It is a letter that should dear to the Christians heart. There are a number of great commentaries on this Pauline epistle, and below are a few of my favorites:


Philippians

The letter of Philippians is a personal favorite of mine, and there are a couple commentaries that I have come to know and use often:


Colossians & Philemon

The letter of Colossians is a book of the New Testament that I have been working through for some time now. Philemon is a small but weighty general epistle, and typically one will find Colossians and Philemon grouped together within the same volume. There are a number of commentaries that I have found helpful for this little letter:


1 & 2 Thessalonians 

These two epistles boast a wealth of Pauline theology. There are a number of commentaries available (typically both epistles will be included in one volume), but only a little less than a handful of them I have found personally helpful:


Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus)

These three epistles (commonly referred to as the Pastoral Epistles) are some of the most pastorally rich literature in the entire New Testament. There are mounds of wisdom in these letter and tremendous commentaries have followed. The following are  a few that I have found helpful:

A few honorable mentions that have also been of great encouragement are: