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.

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Book Review: The World of the New Testament

15863581Joel B. Green is the Dean of the School of Theology and Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Fuller Theological Seminary. Green has written or edited more than 40 books, including several award winners. Lee Martin McDonald is President Emeritus and Professor of New Testament Studies at Acadia Divinity College, Acadia University, Nova Scotia. McDonald has written or edited 20 books and over 100 articles and essays on various New Testament topics. Together these two individuals have impacted, and continue to impact for that matter, the arena of New Testament studies far beyond many colleagues in the field. In The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts, edited by Green and McDonald, the boundaries have been pushed once again.

The World of the New Testament brings together household names from within the field of biblical and New Testament studies to guide the reader through the cultural, social and historical milieu of the New Testament. The World of the New Testament has brought together scholars such as, Ben Witherington III, David A. DeSilva, Micheal F. Bird, James H. Charlesworth, James G. D. Dunn, Bruce Chilton, and many more, to address vital topics relating to the New Testament. The articles are vast and variegated in scope, aligned under five sections: (1) Setting the Context: Exile and the Jewish Heritage, (2) Setting the Context: Roman Hellenism, (3) Jewish People in the Context of Roman Hellenism, (4) The Literary Context of Early Christianity, and (5) The Geographical Context of the New Testament. Within these major sections, the reader is skillfully guided through the backdrop of the New Testament world chronologically from the exile to the early Church. The articles are largely summaries of broader conversations within the field, and include such topics as, “The Hasmoneans and the Hasmonean Era” (pp. 38-53), “Greek Religion” (pp. 105-123), “Women, Children, and Families in the Greco-Roman World” (pp. 179-187), “Jews in the Diaspora” (pp. 272-290), “Josephus and the New Testament” (pp. 398- 404), and much, much more.

I found The World of the New Testament to be one of the most helpful resources that I have ever interacted with on New Testament backgrounds—both in the breadth and scope of the articles and the overall layout of the book. In regards to the former, I really enjoyed the vast array of topics this book discusses. Each article was well written, well documented, and authoritatively addressed. Some of the standout articles will include, “Healing and Healthcare” by Joel B. Green (pp. 330-341), “Noncanonical Jewish Writings” by Daniel M. Gurtner (pp. 291-309), and the entire section on the literary context of early Christianity (pp. 343-435). Also, many will enjoy the chapter, “Jesus Research and Archaeology” by James H. Charlesworth (pp. 439-466), which provides an up-to-date summary and collation of two independent, and yet imperative fields of study. In regards to the latter, the overall layout of the book, I found the chronological arrangement of the material well-structured and thoughtfully executed. I also enjoyed the various photographs, maps, tables and diagrams. At some points, the photographs are difficult to discern due the lack of color, but this is to be expected with a black and white image. Lastly, each article concludes with an annotated bibliography that is certain to point the curious reader in the right direction (I followed a few rabbit trails, I mean research trails myself).

The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts brings together some of the leading voices of biblical and New Testament studies into a single volume. The articles are clear, concise, and comprehensive. The scope of the book is exhaustive and the layout strategically structured with the reader in mind. If you are a pastor, teacher, or student of the New Testament you will need this resource. It is hands down one of the best starting points for all things related to the cultural, social, and historical context of the New Testament. If none of that describes you, and you are simply interested in the world behind the pages of the New Testament you will still benefit greatly from this volume. I couldn’t recommend it more!

I received this book for free from Baker Academic in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Book Review: The Historical Jesus: Five Views

The-Historical-JesusThe Historical Jesus: Five Views, edited by James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, brings together a wide spectrum of opinions from today’s leading voices in the quest for the historical Jesus. Beilby is the professor of systematic and philosophical theology, and Eddy is the professor of biblical and theological studies at Bethel University. Together they have written and/or edited numerous books, including, Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views and The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views. Beilby and Eddy bring both expertise and direction to the conversation as they continue to exhibit a growing track record of healthy discussion across various theological spectrums. It is largely the work of these two men that brings together an otherwise disconnected array of scholarship. Consequently, The Historical Jesus: Five Views exhibits a breath of fresh air amid a rapidly growing and diverse conversation that is certain to engage and enlighten readers of all backgrounds.

The book begins with a healthy introduction to the historical landscape surrounding the quest for the historical Jesus. The reader already familiar with the ongoing discussion concerning the issues of the book will find this opening chapter to be a solid refresher to an increasingly complex conversation. The reader largely unfamiliar with the conversation will appreciate the breadth of detail overflowing from these 45 pages, and should be able to confidently place the coming chapter within the broader discussion. Because the aim of the book is to highlight and examine the various methods used to unearth the historical Jesus, the methodological survey in the introduction is invaluable. Personally, I found the introduction among the most helpful chapters in the entire book and anticipate most readers will as well—especially considering the wide spectrum of opinions that follow.

The layout seems to move from left to right across the evangelical spectrum, with ample room for interaction following each contributing article. First, the reader will encounter a self-attested “controversial essay” by Robert M. Price. Price is among the few scholars today who still maintains the notion that Jesus “probably” didn’t exist. I found myself disagreeing with Price on almost every page, but I appreciated his contribution and anticipated his interaction with the other contributors more than any of the other contributors. Second, the reader will encounter an important essay by John Dominic Crossan. Crossan has been a voice within the conversation for some time now and his interaction is valuable, but the interaction against Crossan from the other contributors was even more valuable—especially from Dunn and Bock. Third, the reader will meet a stimulating article by Luke Timothy Johnson. The reader will appreciate the brevity of Johnson’s methodological approach. However, despite my agreement with many of his points, I found his contribution mediocre at best. Fourth, the reader will encounter the contribution of James D. G. Dunn. Dunn largely summarizes and synthesizes his more detailed work on the subject. This is helpful for those unfamiliar with Dunn, or those who simply don’t have the time to read his fuller work. Finally, the reader will encounter the contribution of Darrel L. Bock. Similar to Price, Bock’s contribution will be controversial for many. Not because he is a sceptic but because he is a conservative evangelical.

The Historical Jesus: Five Views is has brought together the most prominent contemporary voices in the current quest for the historical Jesus. As stated above, and, as is the case with all the books within the Spectrum: Multiview Books series published by IVP Academic, the present volume is a goldmine for familiarizing oneself with the broader conversational voices. Still, The Historical Jesus: Five Views is among the most helpful of this type of resource and comes highly recommended to anyone interested in embarking on the quest for the historical Jesus.

I received this book for free from IVP Academic in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Book Review: Urban Legends of the New Testament

UL of NTDavid Croteau is the professor of New Testament & Greek at Columbia International University. Croteau holds a Th.M. and Ph.D. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the editor and contributor to a number of books, including You Mean I don’t have to Tithe? A Biblical and Theological Analysis of Tithing (Wipf & Stock, 2010), Perspectives on Tithing (B&H Academic, 2011), and Which Bible Translation Should I Use? Leading Experts Discuss 4 Major Versions (B&H Academic, 2012). Croteau has also published several articles in Bulletin of Biblical Research and Master’s Seminary Journal. Most recently, Croteau rattles cages with the release of a challenging and yet helpful volume, Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions (B&H Academic, 2015).

In Urban Legends of the New Testament, Croteau seeks to deconstruct 40 interpretive myths, or “urban legends,” encountered in the New Testament text. An urban legend, according to Croteau, is “a commonly circulated myth, repeated throughout the culture as common knowledge, but which isn’t true” (p. xiii). Croteau continues, “interpretations of certain passages in the New Testament have fallen victim to this. Somehow something false is stated, and it gets heard and passed down without someone checking all the facts” (p. xiii). Today many such “urban legends” exists within both the pulpit and the pews, and continue to be circulated without hesitation. It is here that Croteau embodies a clear voice of reason as he calls the reader to set aside tradition for the sake of exegesis and interpretation.

Urban Legends of the New Testament tackles a number of well-known urban legends. But, Croteau also addresses some that may be less familiar to the average reader. For example, some of the urban legends include, the “Eye of a Needle” being a gate in Jerusalem (pp. 61–66) and Hell being a reference to a First-Century garbage dump near Jerusalem (pp. 49–54). Each chapter is titled after the urban legend itself, “not the correct interpretation of the text(s) at hand”(p. xiv), followed by a brief explanation. Subsequently, Croteau deconstructs each of the legends and provides a positive exegesis for his understanding of the correct interpretation. Finally, Croteau concludes each chapter with a section devoted to the application of his presentation, as well as an annotated bibliography divided by resource type (i.e. books, journals, websites, etc.) for further study.

Personally I found Croteau to be both a model of integrity and a true exemplar of compassion in his handling of each of the 40 urban legends. He is engaging and consistent across the board in his treatment of these misunderstanding, and his tone is truly something to be admired. I also found the application section to be extremely helpful in processing the specific legends, especially for the pastor or teacher who would take on the responsibility of exposing such myths. Still, the reader must be fully prepared for the possibility of a challenge when picking up this book, because Urban Legends of the New Testament is sure to expose the presence of some urban legends in their own thought. Of course, if this breaks down the wall of bad hermeneutic and re-shapes a more faithful understanding of the text, who could be opposed to such challenge? In the end, if you still find yourself at ends with Croteau’s conclusion, I am confident that you will still walk away encouraged by the carefulness he exemplifies as he handles the biblical text. This book comes highly recommended!

I received this book for free from B&H  Academic in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Book Review: The Professor’s Puzzle

PPMichael S. Lawson is the Senior Professor of Educational Ministries and Leadership, as well as coordinator of the Doctor of Educational Ministries degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. Lawson holds a BBA from the University of North Texas, ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary, and PhD from Oklahoma University. He is the author and contributor to a number of books devoted to Christian education, including, The Christian Educator’s Handbook on Children’s Ministry (Baker, 1998), The Christian Educator’s Handbook on Teaching (Baker, 2000), and the Evangelical Dictionary of Christian Education (Baker Academic, 2001). Lawson has also written numerous articles in Christian Educators of the 20th Century, Christian Education Journal, and Christian Education Today. Most recently, in The Professor’s Puzzle: Teaching in Christain Academics, Lawson has brought together several decades of his experience and practice within the realm of Christian higher education, and has yielded a handbook that is accessible and trustworthy for the new and aspiring educator.

The Professor’s Puzzle appropriately recognizes the initial shock that tends to accompany the transition from PhD student to “professorhood.” Lawson helpfully bridges this gap with expert precision and provides the reader with a “need-to-know” guide for the new and forthcoming adventures. Lawson begins by placing the foundation for a philosophy of Christian academic education, and quickly transitions into the necessary task of integrating the Christian worldview into ever corner of learning. These two opening chapters really function to lay the groundwork for the entire book. Next the reader is accompanied through the land of learning theories where Lawson helpfully selects and expands upon his “top ten” learning theories. I found Lawson’s list to be insightful and accurately placed. The remainder of the book focuses on planning and executing a course syllabus, mastering content, the classroom experience, evaluation, instruction within the classroom, and relational skills necessary to provide a learning environment where students flourish. The final chapter of the book is devoted to exposing the reader to the underlying realities of the institution. It clearly and concisely brings the reader behind the scenes of their new and/or aspired calling of “professorhood.”

As a current educator within the local church and an aspiring professor within the walls of the seminary, I greatly appreciate the wisdom discovered in The Professor’s Puzzle. Lawson is clear and articulate in his explanation and expectation of the reader. He knows his targeted audience well and this reality saturates every page. I am also extremely grateful for the candor Lawson brings to the discussion as he addresses difficult and pressing issues within the future/present situation of the reader. It would be difficult for me within the space provided to highlight all that I found valuable within The Professor’s Puzzle, but two things must be mentioned for the sake of this review. First, the opening chapter “A Philosophy for Christian Academic Education” is likely the most comprehensive and concise articulation of the necessity of Christian higher education I have ever read. If you could only read one chapter, please, read this one. Second, while mastery of all the chapters would be recommended with time, I was particularly challenged within my current role as a Director of Adult Education to focus upon and master my relating skills (ch. 9). The guidance given to the reader in this section is truly seasoned with salt and will beneficial to all Christian educators.

The Professor’s Puzzle is the closest most will get to having a seasoned expert guide them through the difficult waters of all things “professorhood.” Lawson provides the reader with a lifetime of experience teaching within the arena of Christian academic circles. If you are a new and/or aspiring professor like myself, this book is an indispensable tool that will be referenced often. Still, I wouldn’t limit the usefulness of this book to the aspiring academics alone. If you are a Christian educator of any kind this book will prove itself beneficial over and over again. I couldn’t recommend it more.

I received this book for free from B&H  Academic in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

 

John Wesley: Sin in a Framework of Perfection

Introduction  From the beginning of his ministry, John Wesley has continuously encountered opposition against his adherence to Christian perfection. Wesley preached several sermons on the topic and published a number of well-articulated tracts and books in his defense. Still, serious biblical and theological disagreement confronted … Continue reading John Wesley: Sin in a Framework of Perfection

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: