Category: Book Review

Review: In the Shadow of the Temple

41sG2plDgmLOskar Skarsaune is widely recognized as a leading voice on Jewish influences on early Christianity. Skarsaune is professor emeritus of Church History at MF Norwegian School of Theology in Oslo, Norway. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including Incarnation: Myth or Fact, The proof from Prophecy: A Study in Justin Martyr’s Proof-Text Tradition, and the present volume In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity.

In the Shadow of the Temple offers a unique and fresh contribution to the study of the development and practice of the early Church. Skarsaune argues against the common notion of a “parting of ways” after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and contends that early Christians were in continuous conversation with Jews about practice and doctrine in the early centuries leading up to Constantine—shaping the way they worshiped and thought about God. Skarsaune is honest about the strife that was present between the two groups, but ultimately paints a much more convincing portrait of early Christianity than the alternative.

The book is divided into three major sections with an epilogue to tie it together. The initial section of the book aims to uncover and present Judaism as the “mother soil” for the Christian movement, and thus examines Judaism from the Maccabees to the Rabbis. This section is dense and detailed, and Skarsaune’s understanding of the milieu shines brightly throughout. The next section of the book aims to position the beginnings of the Christian movement into the previously established context. This section comprises the heart of the book as Skarsaune constructs the foundation for his thesis. The final section of the book aims to explore the persistence of the Jewish heritage within the Christian movement beyond AD 70. Skarsaune brings the reader full circle and solidifies his thesis in nearly every aspect of the early Christian movement.

In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity by Oskar Skarsaune is praiseworthy on many levels. Skarsaune is clear and concise without jeopardizing the needed details to solidify his thesis. As a leading voice of early Jewish and Gentile Christian history, Skarsaune provides an authoritative, comprehensive introduction to the Jewish basis of early Christianity and challenges the notion of a “parting of ways” after AD 70. Skarsaune has written a book that is both accessible and informative, and his effort superseded my initial notion of the book’s endeavor. I can confidently say that this is one of the most important books on early Christianity that I’ve encountered in some time. It comes highly recommended!

Review: Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction

11558697Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction by Craig G. Bartholomew and Ryan P. O’Dowd is a clear and accessible introduction to wisdom literature with a unique focus upon the theological contribution of the Old Testament books. The goal of the book is to open a conversation amongst readers towards an embrace and embodiment of the theology of the Old Testament wisdom literature today (p. 16). This is accomplished through rigorous engagement with the biblical text and interaction with both ancient and modern scholarship.

Bartholomew and O’Dowd divide the focus of the book into three sections. Chapters 1-3 are an establishment of the context for the book, including an introduction to wisdom literature as wisdom, a survey of the world of ancient (i.e. Egypt, Mesopotamia, Israel, etc.), and the genre of poetry. These three chapters do well to achieve what they set out to accomplish, and everything else is captured in the recommended readings at the end of each chapter. Chapters 4-9 comprise the heart of the book and walk the reader through Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job, offering a theological interpretation of each book, an overview of the reception of each book, and interaction with the biblical text throughout. Chapters 9-12 move the discussion towards a more fuller theology of the wisdom literature for today and examine the use of wisdom and wisdom literature in the New Testament.

There is much to be praised about this volume. First, and probably foremost, Bartholomew and O’Dowd do an excellent job establishing the books in the ancient Near Eastern context. This allows the scope of the book to move beyond a typical introduction as the theological and hermeneutical considerations are developed. Second, each chapter concludes with a curated “recommended reading” section. This makes the book perfect for interested readers looking to adventure out on topics. That said, there are also several resources I anticipated to find as recommended reads, and when I looked I came up with nothing. Of course, this is minor in the scope of what Bartholomew and O’Dowd have accomplished. Lastly, while the wisdom literature of the Old Testament typically moves beyond the books explicitly covered in the volume, the introduction to wisdom and the ensuing literature does well to orient the reader with the necessary tools to accomplish the task of interpretation.

Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction by Craig G. Bartholomew and Ryan P. O’Dowd is a clear and accessible introduction to wisdom literature with a unique focus upon the theological contribution of the Old Testament books. It is well situated for a classroom and even better situated for the interested reader. Those looking for a solid introduction to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament that will pay dividends in the end, will do well to consult Bartholomew and O’Dowd.

Review: An Introduction to Biblical Ethics

20458356An Introduction to Biblical Ethics: Walking in the Way of Wisdom (third edition) by J. Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan is an up-to-date, comprehensive overview of biblical ethics from a Christian worldview. The book is uniquely organized around the ethical implications that emerge from within the Ten Commandments, namely the love for God and the love for neighbor. The structure of the book is much the same as the previous editions, but Copan has both added and updated the material to reflect modern concerns (i.e. end-of-life ethics, stem-cell research, animal rights, sexuality, plastic surgery, genetics and technology, etc.). McQuilkin and Copan are attentive to allow the Scriptures to inform the conversation throughout and the reader will appreciate this clear line of sight.

Chapters 1-11 establish some of the foundational concerns with constructing a biblical ethic, such as a biblical view of love, law, sin, etc. McQuilkin and Copan have also added a section focused on ethical alternatives to help orient the reader more firmly in the Christian tradition. This allows the reader to identify the detectives of a biblical ethic more clearly before any attempt is made to apply the Bible to life. Chapters 12-34 build upon the foundation of the biblical ethic previously established and helps the reader apply such to various ethically related topics. These chapters will comprise the heartbeat of the book for most readers and users of this introduction. The issues discussed are vast, and McQuilkin and Copan offer a detailed treatment of each from a conservative evangelical perspective—both saturated with Scripture and logically presented with the consistency of conviction.

This third edition of An Introduction to Biblical Ethics: Walking in the Way of Wisdom follows in the footsteps of two well-received prior editions. Paul Copan has brought a fresh set of eyes to the task and built upon McQuilkin’s work with rigor and awareness. This is a book to keep nearby and consult often. It is an introduction, so readers will need to plan accordingly for further study. But for those that are ready to get their feet wet and begin applying the Bible to everyday life, McQuilkin and Copan is a first-rate resource. It is trustworthy, dependable, and equally engaging. Disagreements will arise for some readers. However, those who honestly analyze the arguments presented in this book should walk away with a new perspective worthy of consideration and application in the Christian life. I couldn’t recommend this book more! 

Review – Biblical Aramaic: A Reader and Handbook

310MY6988SLOf the 23,145 verses that make up the Hebrew Bible, 269 verses are not written in Hebrew, but in Aramaic. For this reason alone, the Biblical Aramaic: A Reader and Handbook by Donald R. Vance, George Athas, Yael Avrahami, and Jonathan G. Kline is easily situated as a vital addition to any Old Testament or biblical language enthusiasts’ library.

Biblical Aramaic: A Reader and Handbook begins with a brief introduction to the language and its history and relationship to biblical Hebrew. The first section offers the complete grammatical analysis of all Aramaic portions of the Bible—Genesis 31:47, Jeremiah 10:11, Daniel 24-7:28, and Ezra 4:8-6:18 and 7:12-26. The Aramaic text is founded on Biblia Hebraica Leningradensia (BHL), and where BHL differs from Codex Leningradensis (L) and the standard critical edition of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) textual notes are offered. The “Reader” information is clearly presented and includes contextual glosses and parsing for words that occur fewer than 25 times, as well as parsing of all verb forms. Like the BHS Reader that came before it, the goal of the first section is to cultivate a seamless reading experience and proficiency with the language.

The second section offers an extensive collection vocabulary and morphology lists. Jonathan G. Kline did an exceptional job curating these lists to the benefit of the reader. The reader will find general frequency lists, parts of speech lists, verbs lists by stem, root type, and frequency, lists of pronominal suffixes, easily confused words, various loanwords, and more. This allows readers to no longer require a separate lexicon, and thus, provides the reader freedom to focus on learning the language with minimal distraction. In this sense, for readers with familiarity or training in the language, Biblical Aramaic: A Reader and Handbook will be a unique single stop resource with loads of benefit. One thing that it lacks, however, and something that could have been immensely useful packaged together with the content here, is an abbreviated introductory grammar for reference.

Biblical Aramaic: A Reader and Handbook by Donald R. Vance, George Athas, Yael Avrahami, and Jonathan G. Kline delivers exactly what it promises to deliver. It would have been wonderful to see some form of reference grammar included, but there are no reasons this resource should be passed up by serious students of the Bible. If you’re an Old Testament or biblical language enthusiasts and you don’t already have it, please do yourself a favor and cough up the measly $30 (MSRP) and put it on a shelf nearby. It will be used often!

Review – The Reformation Then and Now

51ymul7XtVLFor twenty-five years, Modern Reformation magazine has sought to influence contemporary Christianity towards a reawakening of the God-honoring, Christ-centered, Spirit-wrought place of worship that was birthed from the Protestant Reformation. Now, as the world eagerly awaits the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, Eric Landry and Michael Horton have brought together over forty of the most important articles published by the magazine for a tour de force of Reformation history and thought.

The Reformation Then and Now: 25 Years of Modern Reformation Articles Celebrating 500 Years of the Reformation is organized around three major sections: (1) the cause, (2) characters, and (3) consequences of the Reformation. The articles are roughly ten pages in length and cover a swath of Reformation history and theology. Landry and Horton have also included appendix material offering short biographies of the major reformers, a brief sketch of Reformation history, and the five key concepts of Reformation spirituality.

Depending on the reader’s personal interest or curiosity, each major section will have favored articles and high points. However, as one who is naturally intrigued by the history and theology of the Reformation, I found most (if not all) of the articles to be essential for different reasons. Some highlights for me included “The State of the Church Before the Reformation” by Alister McGrath, “Pelagianism” by Michael Horton, and “Calvin and Jonathan Edwards” by Paul Helm. There were articles that I anticipated (at least topics) but didn’t find addressed. That said, most of them would likely fall outside the scope of the three major sections, and thus, I am unable to find fault for the omission.

The Reformation Then and Now: 25 Years of Modern Reformation Articles Celebrating 500 Years of the Reformation edited by Eric Landry and Michael S. Horton offers an attractively organized collection of articles curated and arranged for the benefit of the reader. The book itself is bound in a handsome hardcover with dustjacket and constructed of quality materials. It will last for a long time and look good doing it. If you’re looking for a way to bring in the celebration of the 500th anniversary or simply become more informed about the history and theology of the Protestant Reformation, then The Reformation Then and Now is an indispensable resource. It was a joy to read and reflect on. It comes highly recommended!

Review: Practicing the Power

30649315Sam Storms is Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Storms has a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas. He is the author of numerous books, including Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist (Enjoying God Ministries, 2005), contributing author to Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: Four Views (Zondervan, 1996), and The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts (Bethany House Publishers, 2013). Most recently, Storms has provided a practical guide for both churches and individuals looking to incorporate the gifts of the Holy Spirit into everyday life.

Practicing the Power: Welcoming the Gifts of the Holy Spirit is a breath of fresh air. Storms is biblically sound, theologically trustworthy, and pastorally sensitive to the issues at hand. He has written for those “theologically sophisticated followers of Christ who are open to and hungry for the present tense voice of the Spirit while always subject to the functional and final authority of the written text of Scripture” (p. 13). This includes both the corporate and individual level—the former making it unique for pastors looking to influence the culture of their church. The book is comprised of twelve chapters and two appendix articles, covering everything from the fasting, healing, and prophecy, to desiring spiritual gifts and the importance of worshiping in the Spirit.

There is much to be appreciated about this book. First, and probably foremost, Storms rightly recognizes that “Bible-believing evangelicals will never be truly open to the pursuit of spiritual gifts unless they see them clearly taught in Scripture” (p. 28). Thus, the pastor must be willing to guide his people to that end, and Storms does a compelling, and even encouraging job assisting the reader to observe that reality. Second, Storms provides seasoned advice that is both practical and easily implemented. Storms penetrates to the heart of the matter and speaks with clarity and truth from God’s word. Third, Storms offers example after example for the readers to use and learn from as they press into the gifts of the Spirit. Lastly, Storms consistently places emphasis where emphasis is needed. He is in no way concerned or satisfied with emotional exercises of superficial spirituality. The desire of his heart is clearly for the betterment of the body of Christ and the edification of God’s people.

Practicing the Power: Welcoming the Gifts of the Holy Spirit by Sam Storms is easily one of the most important books on spiritual gifts available on the market today. It is practical and informed in more ways than one. Storms is easy to read and enjoyable, and the eager reader will learn a lot from his gracious approach. As someone who is theologically in agreement with Storms’ position, but more times than not functionally opposed to it, I found myself both challenged and encouraged to practice the power. This a book every should Christian read in time, and do so carefully. It comes highly recommended!

Review: Hearing the Message of Daniel

519vz6EpqULChristopher J. H. Wright is International Ministries director of the Langham Partnership and the author of numerous books related to global missions, the Old Testament, and the people of God. Wright is both a veteran scholar and a seasoned pastor, and like many of his books, Hearing the Message of Daniel: Sustaining Faith in Today’s World demonstrates this blended reality with excellence.

Hearing the Message of Daniel is not a commentary. This needs to be stated and understood at the beginning so readers are not disappointed with the outcome. As Wright notes, “[the book has] its origin in preaching, and retains much of that style” (p. 12). Furthermore, as should be expected, Wright avoids the critical questions of the book and takes no position on “the unity of Daniel, or dating of its later chapters, or of the book as a whole” (p. 12). Hearing the Message of Daniel is an encouragement rooted in the exposition of the book of Daniel. As Wright explains, “the entire book is indented to be an encouragement to God’s people in the midst of hostile and threatening cultures and to affirm God’s sovereign control of all that happens, even as fallen human beings ‘do as they please’ in exercising their own rebellious wills in opposition to God and his people” (p. 12).

The book is comprised of numerous expositions on the book of Daniel. Each chapter in the book corresponds to a chapter in the book of Daniel, apart from the final chapter which covers Daniel 10-12. It should also be noted that chapters 1-6 were previously published in Tested by Fire: Daniel 1-6—Solid Faith in Today’s World (Scripture Union Publishing, 1993). Wright does an exceptional job keeping the reader focused on the message of the book while avoiding much of the theological, namely eschatological concerns many readers will be familiar with from the book of Daniel. He does well to provide the reader with background information pertinent to the message of the book and doesn’t shy away from offering theological observations founded upon the larger narrative (i.e. God’s sovereignty).

Hearing the Message of Daniel: Sustaining Faith in Today’s World is quintessential Christopher J. H. Wright. It is readable, reliable, and sensitive to what matters in the Christian life. Wright sets out to strengthen and offer encouragement for those facing hostility and persecution and does so with an eye upon the grace and mercy of God. Wright demonstrates the relevance of the book of Daniel with little effort and captures the reader’s hearts in the process. This is a book that will stir your heart with confidence for God and his lovingkindness for his people. If you’re preaching or teaching through Daniel, then Hearing the Message of Daniel is an essential read. It comes highly recommended!