Category: Book Review

Review: The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing

30259200Jonathan T. Pennington is associate professor of New Testament Interpretation and director of research doctoral studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Pennington received a Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. Along with numerous articles, Pennington is the author of Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew and Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction, and works on both Greek and Hebrew vocabulary. Most recently, Pennington has written a theological commentary that provides a fresh approach to the Sermon on the Mount that is both contextually informed and practically concerned with application in the Christian life.

The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary is strategically divided into three major parts: (1) Orientation, (2) Commentary, and (3) Theological Reflection. In the introduction, Pennington surveys the history of interpretation and positions the reader to better recognize the overall strategy of his approach. As Pennington acknowledges, the entire purpose of the book is to wrestle with one, single question: What is the Sermon really saying theologically and practically? (p. 14). In Part One, Pennington familiarizes the reader with the interpretive lenses used throughout the second and third parts of the book. Pennington positions the Sermon as a Christocentric, flourishing-oriented, kingdom-awaiting, eschatological wisdom exhortation (p. 15). Contextually, Pennington rightly positions the Sermon within the crossroads of Second Temple Judaism and the Greco-Roman virtue tradition, and spends a fair amount of time detailing how such a crossroad influences the language therein—especially terms such as Makarios (“Flourishing” or “blessed”), Teleios (“whole/complete” or “perfect”), and others. In Part Two, Pennington applies his interpretive lenses to the text of the Sermon and offers a section-by-section commentary on Matthew 5:1-8:1. In Part Three, Pennington brings the entire book to a practical point of digestion and offers six “theological assertions [or theses] that seek to pull together several threads and themes to construct a theology of human flourishing rooted in the Sermon” (p. 290). The book closes with an author index and a Scripture and ancient writings index for reference use.

The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing is both convincing and engaging. Pennington is judicious and detailed, but also clear and accessible. A few observations need to be mentioning here. First, and probably foremost, those not familiar with a theological approach to the Bible will need to read Part One before moving into the commentary proper. This is not to say that readers cannot delve into the commentary without reading Part One, rather that much of what is developed in the commentary is further implications from that previously established. It should be a necessary start point for most. Second, Pennington’s lexical exploration on Makarios and Teleios was not only convincing (I can almost guarantee that you won’t read the Sermon the same again), but it was a superb example and demonstration of how to do such work properly. The keen reader will not only glean from Pennington’s conclusion, but thereafter will do well if they imitate his methodology. Lastly, though some readers may at points disagree with Pennington, it is nearly impossible to see how such disagreement could detract from the value of his willingness to follow the text and establish the Sermon as “an eschatological, Christ-centered, kingdom-oriented piece of wisdom literature with roots in the Jewish Scriptures that invites hearers into human flourishing through faith-based virtue, expressed in language that overlaps with other first-century moral philosophies” (p. 289). Pennington is careful and honest, and does much to help the reader recognize the benefit of reading the Sermon through theological lenses.

The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary by Jonathan T. Pennington is a remarkable, theological exploration into one of the most important passages of the New Testament. Pennington is familiar with the history of interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount and his expertise in the Gospels provides a solid foundation for the work produced here. Pennington is insightful, engaging, and informed. If you can only own a single book on the Sermon on the Mount, please, let it be this one! It comes strongly recommended and will be used often.

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Review: Greek Verb Revisited

31861996Greek Verb Revisited: A Fresh Approach for Biblical Exegesis edited by Steven E. Runge and Christopher J. Fresch is a collection of scholarly essays presented at the Tyndale Fellowship 2015 meeting, sponsored by the University of Cambridge School of Arts and Humanities and Lexham Research Institute. Runge and Fresch have brought together a fascinating presentation of forward-moving linguistic research that frames a longstanding conversation around the function and application of the Greek verb. Runge and Fresch help to push the conversation past an aspect-only dialog and into new space with more room for a new paradigm to flourish.

As expected, Greek Verb Revisited is academically oriented and probably best situated for intermediate or advance students of New Testament Greek. The volume opens with an excellent forward from Andreas J. Köstenberger, recounting his personal journey and adoration for the work presented. Runge and Fresch have divided the essays into three major sections: (1) Overview, (2) Application, and (3) Linguistic Investigations. The organization of the volume seems somewhat random, but the content therein is magnificent. The first section aims to position the overall conversation, past and present, within the larger framework of the volume. There are four chapters focusing on tense and/or aspect, with no obvious organizational intent, which looks to move the conversation towards new ground. While each of the essays has strengths, the essay by Nicholas J. Ellis, that establishes a cognitive-linguistic framework, is outstanding and Ellis’ use of Matt. 2:20 is appropriate. The second and third sections are where the bulk of the volume is spent. There is much that could be said about the chapters in these sections, but most of which is beyond space here. Runge’s chapter on nonnarrative discourse was fascinating. Runge is easy to follow and he does a great job bringing the reader into his discussion while remaining humble and honest about the need for further research (p. 265). Again, much more could be said about each essay individually, but as a collection of essays this volume is sure to be a staple for further engagement in the years to come.

It is both exciting and encouraging to see an unfolding of new movement in research regarding the function and application of the Greek language, especially the Greek verb. Greek Verb Revisited is both up-to-date and academically stimulating. The contributors include, Peter Gentry, Stephen Levinsohn, Buist Fanning, Rutger Allan, and many more names of equal caliber. At nearly 650 pages, this volume is not for the faint of heart. But, those who specialize in or enjoy linguistics will find this volume to be a goldmine of rich discovery. Some essays are more difficult to follow than others, and this varies from topic and author. But, overall those with a preexisting knowledge of the language and a familiarity with the ongoing dialog on Greek verbs will be pleasantly surprised by the tone of this volume. Additionally, for those who love to explore bibliographies for their next research project or “rabbit trail” read, each of the essays include a sizable list of referenced resources that will come in handy. For future exploration, Runge and Fresch have included a detailed subject/author index and an index of ancient sources. This will allow for relevant information to be retrieved as the need arises—an appropriate and welcomed addition.

Greek Verb Revisited: A Fresh Approach for Biblical Exegesis edited by Steven E. Runge and Christopher J. Fresch is nothing short of groundbreaking. The essays included are forward-looking and up-to-date with the latest conversations, and, in fact, push those conversations towards a much-needed end. If you are looking for a volume that presents the most recent advances in the Greek language, while remaining academically practical for exegesis and textual analysis, then nothing should stand in the way of this book finding space on your shelf. It comes highly recommended for those engaged or looking to engage in the conversation.

Review: Forgiveness and Justice

41nw4LO8FzL Bryan N. Maier is Associate Professor of Counseling and Psychology at Biblical Seminary near Philadelphia, where he has taught for over a decade. Maier also previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for five years. Maier has a MA (Biblical Counseling) and an MDiv from Grace Theological Seminary, as well as an MA (Clinical Psychology) and a Doctorate in Psychology from Wheaton Graduate School. Maier is the author of The Separation of Psychology and Theology at Princeton, 1868-1903: The Intellectual Achievement of James McCosh and James Mark Baldwin (Edwin Mellen Press, 2006) and the present volume Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach (Kregel Ministry, 2017).

Forgiveness and Justice is a captivating exploration of the relationship between forgiveness and justice from a Christian worldview. Maier does a tremendous job grappling the task of defining forgiveness as it relates to God and the gospel. He roots forgiveness in the character of God as seen in the person and work of Christ, and disembodies the act of forgiveness from a variety of contemporary theories concerning the role of forgiveness in the healing process of the victim. For Maier, healing is a prerequisite for forgiveness, not the other way around. Moreover, Maier argues that repentance is required on the part of the perpetrator for forgiveness to take place in a healthy and productive manner. But, forgiveness should never be intended as or used as a self-centered means of therapeutic self-satisfaction or healing. This is not why or how God forgives us, and thus, it is not why or how we should approach the forgiveness of others. Throughout the volume, Maier is continually establishing his view under the presupposition that the Christian worldview is both true and accurate, and that the Bible authoritatively informs how we are to approach the task of forgiveness as a means of relational reconciliation.

There is much to be applauded about Maier’s approach. First, and probably foremost, Maier does an incredible job fusing the latest in psychological research concerning the benefits and dangers of forgiveness from a biblical worldview. Second, Maier does well to include ample discussion around the imprecatory Psalms and provides clear examples of how such can function as hope for the hurting in the midst of the healing process—ultimately pointing to the justice of God as the means of sanctuary. Third, Maier is extremely clear and accessible. Forgiveness and Justice was a captivating read, and it’s far outside my normal area of interest. That said it was also extremely informative and practical. I could easily see this work being formative for those in the field of counseling or pastoral ministry. It was very helpful and I identify as neither. The only shortcoming, apart from the foreseen disagreements I can see with his use of the imprecatory Psalms, is the use of endnotes. I know the publishing science behind it, but as a detailed reader, I do not like moving back and forth to the end of the book. It significantly prolonged an otherwise easy and enjoyable read.

Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach by Bryan N. Maier is outstanding. Maier is easy to read, and while the material is somewhat weighty, it is very accessible. He is God-centered and gospel-driven in his approach, and readers will benefit tremendously from what he’s written. It was an unexpected journey that I am very happy to have taken. It comes highly recommended.

Review: An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts

51vlLShRwvLElaine A. Phillips is Distinguished Professor of Biblical Studies at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. Phillips has a Ph.D. in rabbinic literature from The Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her areas of expertise include biblical hermeneutics, historical geography, and Old Testament wisdom literature. Phillips is the author of a book-length commentary on Esther in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary series edited by Tremper Longman III and Davide Garland (Zondervan, 2010), and the devotional With God, Nothing is Impossible: In Step with Women of the Bible (Deep River Books, 2014). In her latest book, An Introduction to Reading the Biblical Wisdom Texts, Phillps offers an accessible tour de force of the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible.

An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts is designed for undergraduate students and interested laypersons looking to broaden their understanding of this important literary genre. Phillips has divided the book into five major parts: (1) where and how do we start?, (2) practical wisdom: Proverbs, (3) coming to grips with morality: Ecclesiastes, (4) wisdom and suffering: Job, and (5) wisdom and love: Song of Songs. In part one, Phillips introduces the reader to the genre of wisdom and looks at basic and definitional aspect of biblical wisdom. She also helps the reader better understand the nature and structure of Hebrew poetry and the overall context of wisdom literature. In the remaining four parts, Phillips focuses on the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible and the various aspects found therein. The chapters are generally brief and intentionally seek to cultivate engaged interest not he part of the reader. This includes various excursuses throughout the volume and a curated, up-to-date bibliography for further study following each major part of the book.   

As a book targeted for undergraduate students and interested laypersons, I found Phillips’ to be both informative and engaging. It is informative in that Phillips knows her targeted audience and she does well to meet their needs without exploring areas that may prove potentially hazardous. It is engaging in that Phillips demonstrates a keen sensitivity to the many issues that arise within wisdom literature, and she approaches such with the wit of one who has been teaching the material for many years. Readers of this volume will likely find Phillip both humorous and insightful. I especially found her treatment of Hebrew poetry helpful, as someone who has read broadly on the topic. She has a unique ability to make complex matters simple, and I trust most readers will appreciate that ability. It would have been nice to find questions for further study at the conclusion of each chapter. Not only would Phillips’ style have been complemented, but the comprehension of the reader would have been aided.

An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts by Elaine A. Phillips is an insightful and engaging exploration through the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible. It’s a tour de force of winsome nature. Phillips is a master teacher, and her seasoned demeanor explodes on nearly every page as she guides readers through the wonders of biblical wisdom. If you’ve been looking for an introduction to the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible, then look no further. An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts by Elaine A. Phillips is one of the best introductory works that I’ve seen in some time, and I couldn’t recommend it more strongly.

Review: Essential Writings of Meredith G. Kline

32987889Meredith G. Kline is arguably the most formative theological mind of the twentieth century. He embodied the strongest commitment to the authority of Scripture and revolutionized Reformed biblical theology. He was Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and maintained an active writing and teaching ministry at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California. The influence of Meredith G. Kline reaches across decades of academic rigor, and includes a corpus of books and articles such as God, Heaven, and Her Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos (Wipf & Stock, 2006), Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Wipf & Stock, 2006), and Images of the Spirit (Wipf & Stock, 1999). Now, just over a decade after Kline went to be with the Lord, a handsome hardcover presentation of his essential writings has been produced by Hendrickson Publishers.

Essential Writings of Meredith G. Kline brings together sixteen articles written over a period of four decades. The book begins with a biographical sketch of Kline from his son, Meredith M. Kline. For those unfamiliar with Kline, this brief bio is an appropriate place to start that journey. Kline does an tremendous job reflecting on the influence, life, and ministry of his father, and readers will appreciate it’s inclusion in this volume. Next, Kline’s grandson, Jonathan G. Kline, offers an introduction to the volume and positions the reader for the road ahead, including comments regarding his editorial role and the articles included in the book. What makes this collection of essays more valuable to the reader is the organizational care that went into its systematic structure. The book is organized around five major parts—(1) creation, (2) covenant, law, and the state, (3) faith, the gospel, and justification, (4) redemption, and (5) resurrection and consummation—with an average of about 3-4 articles comprising each part. This allows readers to topically engage with Kline’s work, and (hopefully) directs them towards his lifework for further investigation.

Meredith G. Kline has been a tremendous influence on how I engage the Bible, especially as it relates to areas of biblical theology. I was overjoyed when I discovered that Hendrickson was going to produce this volume. From the biographical sketch to the last essay, I read with great appreciation for the Kline, his family, and the publisher. Apart from the content itself, which as alluded to above offers a grand sweep of Kline’s major academic focus, the physical form of the book is excellent. Nice, thick paper, and an equally pleasant quality of print. There’s not much to critique about this volume. It delivers what it promises to deliver—essential writings of Meredith G. Kline. If I had to identify a possible missed opportunity, I think it would have been nice to include some photographs in the biographical essay. It would have added sentimental value to an already well-positioned nostalgic volume. Nonetheless, the lack thereof in no way detracts from the value of this book for the contemporary reader.

I can only imagine the level of difficulty that was met when selecting which material was going to be used in a volume of this scope, and for that I truly applaud the editorial work therein. It has brought together some of the most important material from arguably the most important mind of the twentieth century. Essential Writings of Meredith G. Kline is an essential read for anyone serious about the Bible or biblical-theological studies. That said, it is only a mere glimpse into the treasure trove that awaits those who fervently follow it’s footprints to the lifework of Meredith G. Kline. It comes highly recommended!

Review: Commentary on 1-2 Timothy & Titus (BTCP)

30746799.jpgAndreas J. Köstenberger is sin or professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Köstenberger is a world-class New Testament scholar and one of the leading voice in the biblical theology movement. He is the author and contributor to numerous books and articles, including a number of influential commentaries, and the editor of several important series, such as Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation and Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. Most recently, Köstenberger has produced the second volume in the former series, a commentary on the Pastoral Epistles—Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation: Commentary on 1-2 Timothy & Titus

Commentary on 1-2 Timothy & Titus opens with a 54-page introduction to Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus (LTT)—a designation Köstenberger prefers over the traditional identification of the letters as “Pastoral Epistles.” The introduction is well-documented and up-to-date with the latest scholarly discussions surrounding these controversial letters. Köstenberger argues for the traditional Pauline authorship of the letters and does a phenomenal job demonstrating the unity of letters under a Pauline theology. The commentary proper is divided between the 3 letters that Köstenberger aims to cover, namely 1-2 Timothy and Titus. Each book opens with a brief introduction detailing the occasion and purpose of the letter, as well as the opponents, structure, background, etc. As expected, the exposition of the biblical text is firmly established and practically presented. Köstenberger has done the reader a great service in his attention to grammatical detail and his ability to keep the overarching narrative of the letters in view. Lastly, the commentary ends with a 200-page examination of the theology the LTT, including themes such as teaching, the Church, the Christian life, and the LTT and the New Testament canon.

It will be difficult in the space here to articulate the value of Köstenberger’s Commentary on 1-2 Timothy & Titus. Perhaps the fact that Köstenberger executes with excellence on nearly every aspect needed in a commentary on the LTT and does so with scrupulous detail is a good place to start. From the inclusion of a full-fledged biblical-theological examination of the LTT to the pastorally sensitive discovered in the content of the commentary, Köstenberger has excelled on nearly every page. When it comes to controversial matters, such as the role of women in the life and ministry of the Church, Köstenberger is charitable while remaining faithful to the text and message of the LTT and larger biblical narrative. Those familiar with Köstenberger’s work will know where he stands on such issues, so these matters wont come as a surprise. Others may be disappointed, but should appreciate the care that Köstenberger takes in presenting his case. It is also worth mentioning the sheer amount of research that went into the volume. When I say that Köstenberger is a world-class scholar, I mean that his a world-class scholar. This is seen in both the detail discovered in the footnotes and his ability think more broadly about how these controversial letters fit together in Paul’s life and ministry.

Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation: Commentary on 1-2 Timothy & Titus by Andreas J. Köstenberger is a go-to commentary for students and pastors looking to immerse themselves in the letters to Timothy and Titus. There are numerous commentaries on the market that have functioned as standards for the study of the Pastoral Epistles for many years, such as Mounce, Knight, and Towner. Köstenberger has rightly created shelf space next to these volumes and he will likely be the first to be removed when you have a question. This volume is a joy to read. It is scholarly, informative, engaging, and encouraging. Those looking for a commentary on Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus will do well to end here. It comes highly recommended!

Review: Matthew (EGGNT)

32611775Charles L. Quarles professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology and Director of PhD studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Quarles received his PhD from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary and has authored several books, including The Sermon on the Mount: Restorin Chist’s Message to the Modern Church (B&H Academic, 2011), The Illustrated Life of Paul (B&H Academic, 2014), and co-authored The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (with Andreas J. Köstenberger and L. Scott Kellum; B&H Academic, 2016). Most recently, Quarles has contributed a phenomenal  volume on the Gospel of Matthew to the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (EGGNT) series.

Quarles’ volume on Matthew, much like the other EGGNT volumes, is structured to optimize the reader’s understanding of the Greek text and facilitate a deeper recognition of the various lexical and grammatical nuances therein. Quarles begins with a brief introduction, only about 8 pages of actual content. Quarles contends for traditional Matthean authorship and dates the Gospel in the 60’s. Furthermore, Quarles doesn’t take sides concerning the compositional language (Hebrew or Greek) of the Gospel, but instead presents the evidence for both and acknowledges the inability to establish firm conclusions. Those looking for more detailed introductory discussions will need to look elsewhere, but the information Quarles provides is enough to send the reader in the right direction.

The organization of the commentary section has skillfully utilized a similar format and layout as the other volumes on the Gospels in the EGGNT series. Some accommodation has been made given the narratival nature of the gospels themselves, as opposed to the shorter coherence of the epistles. For example, the reader is not going to find as much sentence diagraming in this volume as the other volumes, and the layout centers around as verse-level exposition as opposed to the clause-level in the other volumes. I found this to be somewhat of a disappointment because of the helpfulness of the clause-level interaction for the task of exegesis, but it is understandable given the genre at hand. That said, I think the reader will find that the verse-by-verse discussion is executed extremely well, and Quarles successfully guides the reader through Matthew with a fine-tooth exegetical comb. Each major unit of text concludes with a “For Further Study” section that takes various themes unearthed in the section and provides the reader with a bibliography for additional investigation, and Quarles does well to offer recommended preaching outlines that allow the reader to work from the text to the sermon.

Quarles offers much to be praised about in this volume. First, and probably foremost, Quarles is well-acquainted with Matthew and his sensitivity to the broader academic conversation regarding textual issues and grammatical debate is noticeable throughout. Second, I found Quarles to be extremely thoughtful in his explanation of difficult concepts and major themes in Matthew. He is not only sensitive to the larger academic conversation, but he is keenly aware of the biblical-theological voice found therein. Quarles steers away from theological speculation and remains focused on the task of the volume. Third, Quarles knows his primary audience and knows that a variegated knowledge of the Greek language is likely present among the readers. This is a clear benefit for the pastors or students who are less frequently working out of the Greek text but have some formal training or exposure. Lastly, the sheer scope of this volume’s content is impressive given its smaller size. Quarles has packed a lot of relevant and useful information into a small package. Pair this volume with any of the recommended commentaries (see p. 10-11) and you will be well-equipped to preach or teach through Matthew with understanding.

Matthew: Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament by Charles L. Quarles is a welcomed and worthy addition to an already tremendous series. As a leading Matthean scholar, Quarels’ contribution to the EGGNT series fits extremely well alongside the quality and caliber that the series has already produced, and any serious student would be ill-equipped without it. If you have been looking for a resource that will guide you through the depths of the Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew, then look no further, because this will continually be your first go-to stop on that journey.