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Review: The Ten Commandments: Ethics for the Twenty-First Century

7226378Mark F. Rooker is Senior Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Rooker is a respected Old Testament scholar and the author of several books, including commentaries on Leviticus and Ezekiel, the widely praised introduction The World and The Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (with Michael Grisanti and Eugene Merrill), and the present volume on the Decalogue in the NAC Studies in Bible & Theology series.

The Ten Commandments: Ethics for the Twenty-First Century is a practical tour de force into the ethical heartbeat of God that transcends all cultural bounds. For Rooker, readers of this volume will “clearly see that the Ten Commandments are founded on the creation account of Gen[esis] 1-2” (Author’s Preface). It is here that Rooker, again and again, uncovers the transcendent nature of the Ten Commandments as he independently explores the meaning and significance of each.

Rooker opens the volume with a useful introduction concerning the influence of the Decalogue on Western law and the significance of the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, Judaism, and Christianity. Rooker does well to familiarize readers with the Ancient Near Eastern background of the Ten Commandments and properly position the Decalogue within the historical context of the biblical narrative.

Rooker explores each Commandment with both academic rigor and contemporary sensitivity. It is here that readers will appreciate the approach of this volume most. The Ten Commandments is laden with meaningful exegesis and seasoned reflection on nearly every page. Those looking for serious interaction with scholarship will be quickly satisfied as Rooker guides the reader through the Commandments. Still, Rooker likewise possesses a unique awareness of ethical implications of the Commandments on the Christian life. For Rooker, “the law is not understood as a means of salvation but as instruction regarding the shape a redeemed life is to take in everyday affairs . . . the Ten Commandments are absolute and ultimate. We do not observe them for social stability, for happiness, or for security and prosperity. The Ten Commandments manifest the attributes of God. Thus we should delight in carrying out His commands” (p. 199).

The regularity of balance between academic and pastoral concerns that Rooker demonstrates in this volume is both uncommon and unexpected. The Ten Commandments: Ethics for the Twenty-First Century offers readers careful exegesis and relevant application. Rooker has breathed new life into the Decalogue for contemporary readers, and pastors, lay-leaders, and even laity will do well to inhale along with him. It comes highly recommended!

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Review: The End of the Law

6867841Jason C. Meyer is Associate Professor of Preaching at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Meyer received both an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Meyer is the author of Preaching: A Biblical Theology, as well as the present volume on the Mosaic Law in Pauline Theology in the acclaimed NAC Studies in Bible & Theology series.

The End of the Law: Mosaic Covenant in Pauline Theology is a captivating study of an important and often oversimplified aspect of Paul’s theological framework. Meyer appropriately provides a much-needed introduction to familiarize readers with the landscape of academic dialog regarding the relationship between the Mosaic and New Covenants. This is considered essential reading for those entering into the dialog, as Meyer does an extraordinary job exposing readers to the issues and methodologies involved.

Meyer begins the exploration with a look at the plural usage of diathēkē (“covenant”) in Romans 9:4 and Ephesians 2:12. For Meyer, these two passages offer two unique examples of the term that view the Mosaic Covenant in a transhistorical sense—portraying the Mosaic Covenant as one covenant in the historical progression of covenants that carry along God’s promise of messianic salvation (p. 274). Next Meyer examines Paul’s use of the adjectives “old” and “new” as they relate to covenant. Here Meyer concludes that the distinction is essential eschatological in nature, rather than merely temporal.

As Meyer turns attention to a three-part study of the Mosaic Covenant in the context of contrast, the examination focuses three important covenant passages: (1) 2 Corinthians 3-4, (2) Galatians 3-4, and (3) Romans 9-11. Meyer further ground the eschatological emphasis of Paul’s theology of covenant before concentrating on the Old Testament metaphor of the circumcision of the heart. Meyer concludes, “although both covenants called for a heart change, the old and new covenants differ in that the old was ineffectual, belonging to the old age, and could not create the heart change for which it called. The new covenant is an effectual covenant, belonging to the new age, and does create the heart change for which it calls” (p. 277).

The breadth and depth of The End of the Law is simply impressive. The cumulative case that Meyer presents is both persuasive and clear. Meyer has effectively synthesized Paul’s theology of the Old and New Covenants, and provided readers with a plethora of meaningful exegesis of the major passages along the way. It is readable and accessible for the average reader and detailed enough for the academics. It is evident that Meyer has done his homework and the footnotes are a testimony to the extensiveness of his research. The End of the Law: Mosaic Covenant in Pauline Theology by Jason C. Meyer is a book that will reignite your heart with a passion for the gospel. 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 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.

Review: Exile: A Conversation with N. T. Wright

61CntzMDAbLExile: A Conversation with N. T. Wright edited by James M. Scott brings together 11 scholars from various academic backgrounds and disciplines to interact and engage with a controversial aspect of Wright’s New Testament worldview—an ongoing narrative of exile that underlines the heartbeat of the Second Temple period. Wright has expressed this topic in various forums and has developed it at length in a number of his books, including the magisterial two volume work Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress Press, 2013).

The essays that comprise Exile are mostly edited and expanded from an engagement at Trinity Western University in November 2010. The volume opens with a sizable essay (60 pages) by Wright. This is the lead essay of which the contributing scholars will interact with and engage in the many pages that follow. The book is divided into four parts: (1) Old Testament/Hebrew Bible/Septuagint with essays by Walter Brueggemann, Robert J. V. Hiebert, and Jörn Kiefer; (2) Early Judaism with essays by Philip Alexander, Robert Kugler, and Dorothy M. Peters; (3) New Testament with essays by Scot McKnight, S. A. Cummins, and Timo Eskola; and (4) Theology with essays by Hans Boersma and Ephraim Radner. The volume appropriately gives Wright the final word and includes another sizeable essay in response to the collective work of the above scholars.

Wright’s work is notoriously witty and dense with complexity. The opening essay was a well-articulated and refreshing (re)affirmation of Wright’s exile thesis. The scope of the essay is quite breathtaking given the space, and Wright takes full advantage of the opportunity to explain his case. Wright’s claim isn’t that all Jews believed they were still in exile, but that some did, and Jesus and his followers picked up this belief as a chief resolution of the gospel message. In short, this essay is an essential starting point for both acquainted and non-acquainted readers. Wright has boiled down a lot of thought into these pages, and each and every word matters greatly for the road ahead. The engagement that follows is what many would expect from a multi-authored work, but the overall sense of argument and tone of the book is clear and pointed. The goal of the volume is to further the conversation, and this it most certainly accomplishes. The standout essays include “Not All Gloom and Doom: Positive Interpretations of Exile and Diaspora in the Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism” by Jörn Kiefer, “Exile to the Land: N. T. Wright’s Exile Theory as Organic to Judaism” by Scot McKnight, and all three essays on early Judaism.

Exile: A Conversation with N. T. Wright edited by James M. Scott demonstrates how academic dialog should be given and received. As Wright closes, “these eleven essays, in their different ways, have done what academic conversation ought to do: that is, they have compelled me to think through once more what exactly I have been wanting to say, and (I hope) how to say it more sharply” (p. 332). The only shortcoming of this volume is that some of the contributors assume a certain level of knowledge that some readers may not possess. But, most readers that are picking up a book with such title should know the journey they are about to embark on. It accomplishes its goal of furthering the conversation and I am excited to see where this volume takes us. One can only hope that it’s out of Exile. It comes highly recommended!

Curious? NIV Faithlife Study Bible

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Curiosity ignites a fire that both informs faith and encourages spiritual growth. There are several ways to feed this curiosity within the Christian life, but few are more impactful than uncovering new or previously unnoticed insights into the Bible. For those who study the Bible often it is easy to find yourself in a dangerous place when it comes to keeping this flame of curiosity alit. There is no easy or one-size solution to remedy this situation, but a well-rounded Study Bible such as the new NIV Faithlife Study Bible can provide an excellent point of engagement to kindle this flame. Let me tell you about a recent encounter I had with a well-known passage in the book of Hebrews.

The book of Hebrews contains five major warning passages against apostasy (2:1–4; 4:12–13; 6:4–6; 10:26–31; 12:25–29). These warnings are scattered throughout the landscape of the book and all of them, except for 6:4-6, appear to be intrinsically tied to an Old Testament allusion or quotation. Here is where curiosity set in and a flame was lit. Given the consistency of the pattern found in the other warning passages, does it make sense to look for a similar type of pattern in 6:4-6? Moreover, if such pattern were present in 6:4-6, would it impact the current wave of theological conversation surrounding the passage? With these questions in hand, I began to survey what commentaries were saying with almost no success. I knew there was a chance that I was off track, but the pattern seemed too strong to simply disregard. As curiosity carried on and I turned to the NIV Faithlife Study Bible, I was pleasantly surprised by my discovery. Not only did it confirm my curiosity, but it opened a door to further insights of exploration.

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There are at least three features of the NIV Faithlife Study Bible that distinguish it from other Study Bibles on the market and position it for readers motivated to stay curious about the Bible. First, and probably foremost, because a Study Bible is only as good as those who contribute, the list of contributors is both impressive and wide-ranging, including scholars such as Michael Bird and William Varner, and best-selling authors such as Randy Alcorn and Charles Stanley. This balance brings both academic and pastoral considerations to the forefront of the reader’s minds. Second, the visual appeal of the NIV Faithlife Study Bible is unlike any other Study Bible available today. Readers will be met with beautiful full-color maps, timelines, tables, infographics (example above), etc. This aspect alone should activate the reader’s curiosity, especially the family-tree diagrams. Third, the level of depth provided in the introductions, articles, and notes offer an unparalleled experience.

No matter where you are in your faith journey, the new NIV Faithlife Study Bible has something exciting for everyone. It will keep your interest near and engage your heart as you continue to discover God’s word. Stay curious. There’s always more to explore.

Review: Biblical Theology

30010115John Goldingay is David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including An Introduction to the Old Testament, The Theology of the Book of Isaiah, the three-volume Old Testament Theology, and many more. Most recently, in Biblical Theology: The God of the Christian Scriptures, John Goldingay has uniquely navigated across canonical lines and produced a biblical theology that both encapsulates the grand narrative of the Bible while simultaneously transcending traditional theological categories.

Biblical Theology is a sizable tome, covering over 600 pages and divided into eight major sections: (1) God’s Person, (2) God’s Insight, (3) God’s Creation, (4) God’s Reign, (5) God’s Anointed, (6) God’s Children, (7) God’s Expectations, and (8) God’s Triumph. The keen reader will be able to detect the close parallel between Goldingay’s major category organization and that of classic systematic approaches to theology. That said, it is quickly visible that Goldingay has sought to venture off the beaten path to pave his own way. Those previously acquainted with Goldingay will be met with his familiar wit and lucid writing style as he reframes the conversation towards an understanding of God and the world as it effortlessly emerges from within the Christian Scriptures (p. 13).

Where I think Goldingay shines in this volume is in his willingness to allow the text of the Old and New Testament to speak for itself. Goldingay avoids trying to unnaturally harmonize tensions within the text, and instead seems to intentionally allow them to remain unresolved. I found this to be refreshing at times and frustrating at others. It is also here I presume that Goldingay is going to find himself in a familiar place with many conservative evangelicals. Among other things, this seemingly intentional ambiguity is most recognizable in Goldingay’s omission of an affirmation of penal substitutionary atonement (p. 332). It is here, and his comments on justification, that will likely generate the primary buzz within the ears of readers committed to traditional categories of Protestant Christianity (myself included)—none of which will detract from the usefulness or brilliance of this volume.

Biblical Theology: The God of the Christian Scriptures by John Goldingay is a masterpiece of excellence and a new benchmark in the arena of biblical/theological studies. Goldingay has an uncanny ability to keep his eye focused on the bigger picture of the Bible as he brilliantly unpacks a compelling portrait of the God revealed therein. While Biblical Theology is a large and somewhat intimidating book, Goldingay is accessible and easy to read. There will be some inevitable areas of disagreement along the way for many readers. That said, for most of those looking to engage with this volume, such points of disagreement are likely to be known by virtue of its author. Biblical Theology is a unique and praiseworthy work that merits the widest readership possible. If it hasn’t found its way on to your 2017 reading list yet, it should!