Review: Partners in Christ

26267453John G. Stackhouse Jr. is Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies and Dean of Faculty Development at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. Stackhouse received his M.A. from Wheaton College and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He is probably most well-known in the United States for his contribution to the ongoing debate regarding the nature of Hell, namely through his work with Rethinking Hell. Stackhouse has published more than a few peer-reviewed articles on a variety of subjects, and authored, co-authored, edited, or co-edited numerous books—one of the most recent of which is a revised, expanded, and newly named edition of his influential work Finally Feminist.

Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism evenhandedly explores the contours of the evangelical gender debate. As the title and subtitle suggest, Stackhouse advocates for an egalitarian position of biblical gender equality. However, Stackhouse’s approach therein gazes past the polemic tenor typically associated with the debate to provide a hermeneutical basis for recognizing the issues amid a diverse corpus of writings. For Stackhouse, the cultural movement towards egalitarianism seems to become a resting place for his argument. Certainly, he is more nuanced in his presentation, but much of his presuppositions as he approaches the subject appear to be rooted here. He covers almost all the standard objections to the egalitarian position as he builds his case. However, strangely enough, he doesn’t seem to interact much with the claims that Paul grounds his argument in creation rather than culture.

There is much to be praised about this book. First, and probably foremost, the reader will truly appreciate the level of honesty that Stackhouse brings to the discussion—even affirming both sides of the debate at points. Second, Stackhouse does well to identify the so-called “pattern of doubleness” throughout the biblical narrative. This “pattern of doubleness” usually involves “a complex interweaving of both the standard privileging of men and of the affirmation of men and women as equal to each other” (p. 81). It affords a Stackhouse the ability to honestly examine the cultural limitations of the biblical text, while at the same time illuminate the equality underlying the biblical authors. Third, Stackhouse is a gifted communicator and his work on this subject is clearly established and well-executed. It’s an evenhanded and enjoyable read that is sure to be recommended for years to come.

Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism by John G. Stackhouse Jr. is a truly exciting treatment of an age-old debate. The reader will get what they expect and so much more. This book should be engaged from either side of the discussion as a model of intellectual honesty. If you are interested or engaged in the gender equality debate, please don’t pass this book up. It comes highly recommended from this complementarian!                    

 

I received a review copy of this book 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.

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Review: Theology of Work Commentary Series

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-9-41-23-pmWe spend more time working than all other activities combined. Work is an essential component of daily life and paramount to our identity as individuals created in the image of God. Still, there appear to be few things more problematic to reconcile with the Christian life than work. Why is there such a vast chasm standing between work and faith? How should faith and work connect and be nurtured within the Christian life? What does the Bible say about work and how should it influence and shape the way Christians work? These are the sort of questions that have motivated the existence of the Theology of Work Project, and propelled the development of a truly unique and valuable collaborative effort.

Theology of Work Bible Commentary is the shared fruit of both seasoned biblical scholarship and professional insight. Some of the more noteworthy contributors include Daniel I. Block, Duane A. Garrett, Jonathan T. Pennington, Bruce Waltke, and more. Still, the most unique aspect of this commentary is discovered in the wider roster of individuals involved. The Theology of Work Project brought together a team of leading executives from various professions, ministry leaders, and biblical scholars, and then tasked them with the responsibility of exploring the whole Bible and building a bridge between the workplace and the Christian life. The result was a one of a kind commentary that systematically pointed the reader towards the joy and responsibility of work as worship to God.

There is much to be praised about the Theology of Work Bible Commentary. It is both scholarly and in-depth while being accessible and immediately applicable to readers of all backgrounds. In fact, the practical nature of this commentary is the most praiseworthy feature to be enjoyed by all readers—in particular for the working pastors and the ordinary working Christians. The editorial team has done the readers a tremendous service by removing layers of scholarly jargon without compromising the scholarship within, and thus producing a commentary that is useful for all with a substance that will last. Each section of the commentary is easily digestible and examined within larger units of the biblical book.

I was shocked to discover how much the Bible had to say about the nature and function of ordinary work. It is true that work consumes the majority of our daily lives, and yet, our faith is the foundation from which we are called to operate therein. In other words, work and faith are not mutually exclusive, but rather should be understood as a unified framework with which we are to view the world. That is, our faith demonstrates itself most clearly in the work we do! The overarching heartbeat of this reality is traceable from Genesis to Revelation, but the Theology of Work Bible Commentary offers more than an explanation of this truth. The reader will discover clear and practical examples of how a proper theology of work can function to bridge a gap that is far too often avoided.

Theology of Work Bible Commentary is a unique resource that provides valuable insight and practical guidance into the function and role of work in the Christian life. From Genesis to Revelation, the reader will be encouraged and empowered to both embrace and rejoice in the God-given responsibility of work. Human beings have been commissioned by God to exercise dominion over the earth, and to be fruitful and multiply. God has commanded those created in his image to operate as people with a clear and identifiable theology of work. It should be deeply ingrained into the very fabric of our being. This is a whole Bible commentary that will quickly turn that command into reality as the readers’ eyes are opened to the significance of work as a mode of worship and service in the Christian life. This is a must have series for every pastor looking to encourage his congregation to live beyond Sunday. It comes highly recommended!!

 

I received a review copy of this series 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.

Review: Destroyer of the gods

29894928Larry W. Hurtado is Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology in the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh. Hurtado has authored numerous books related to early Christianity, including Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity and The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins. Most recently, Hurtado has written a blockbuster of a book and thought-provoking investigation into the distinctiveness of early Christianity within the Greco-Roman context.

Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World is an important and well-thought monograph that explores various aspects of the early Christian movement. The goal of the book is to display the uniqueness of early Christianity in the vast religious landscape of the Greco-Roman world. The book begins with a quick survey of early Christianity through the lenses of non-Christians, including both Jewish and Pagan critiques of Christians. Hurtado concludes, “a good many outsiders, who were the overwhelming majority of the populace, regarded Christians and Christianity as objectionably different and certainly not simply one group among an undifferentiated lot” (p. 35). It is this discovery that establishes the subsequent chapters as the reader is guided through the distinctiveness of early Christian ethics, worship, and more.

The entire book is fascinating and chocked full of rich historical commentary on the Christian movement of the second century. However, one of the most exciting chapters in the book has to do with the early Christian interest with the written word. That is, according to Hurtado, the early Christian movement was particularly interested in books—a “bookish” religion. The implications of this fly in the face of the popular misnomer that early Christians were primarily concerned with oral tradition rather than written words. Early Christianity, according to Hurtado, was uniquely fond of reading, writing, copying, and circulating text. In fact, the modern book likely discovers its origins in the early Christian utilization of the codex. Thus, Hurtado concludes, “the young Christian movement [was] distinctively text oriented in context of the varied religious environment of that time . . . ‘textuality’ was central, and, from the outset, early Christianity was, indeed, ‘a bookish religion’” (p. 141).

Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World by Larry W. Hurtado is a worthwhile investment for anyone interested in early Christianity. Hurtado is usually lucid in his presentation, but this book easily tops the charts of Hurtado’s life works. The reader will likely appreciate Hurtado’s interaction with contemporary scholarship and sensitivity to make the subject matter accessible to a wide range of readership. While much more could surely be said about Hurtado’s treatment of early Christian ethics and worship, in my opinion, the chapter outlined above is alone worth the price of the book. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book 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.

 

Review: The Voice of The Twelve

27777754The so-called Minor Prophets or the Book of the Twelve include some of the most important, and yet neglected writings in the Hebrew Bible. While these twelve prophets held a ministerial voice throughout one of the most formative periods in the history of Israel—a period that stretched more than three centuries—today their voice has been largely eclipsed by an assumed contemporary irrelevance. It is here that The Message of the Twelve: Hearing the Voice of the Minor Prophets by Gary E. Yates and Richard Alan Fuhr seeks to awaken misinformed ears to hear the lasting relevance of this neglected section of the Old Testament.

The Message of the Twelve is divided into two major sections. The opening chapters provide the reader with background material needed to properly understand the Minor Prophets. This includes the historical background, the role of the Twelve, the literary genre and rhetorical nature of the writings, and canonical unity of the Twelve such as various themes, motifs, and patterns discovered therein. The second section of the book focuses more narrowly on each of the twelve books within the Minor Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). It is here that the reader will discover the bulk of the book. Each chapter examines the historical setting and structure of the individual book, followed by a detailed exposition of the message and an analysis of the theological themes—especially as it relates to the contemporary application in conjunction with the whole of Scripture.

This book is a goldmine of practical riches for the contemporary audience. It is clearly and unashamedly targeted towards pastors and students, and would make an excellent companion resource in the library of either. The thing that I appreciated most about this volume is the practical emphasis that Yates and Fuhr carried throughout. They targeted their audience and executed a well-distilled and practical volume because of it. The reader will find numerous maps, charts, and diagrams throughout to help visually connect the dots that Yates and Fuhr are establishing. The exposition section in each book likewise could provide the reader with “preachable” segments for a sermon series or a Sunday school setting. Thus, the reader is not only woken to the voice of the Minor Prophets, but they are likewise equipped to awaken others.

The Message of the Twelve: Hearing the Voice of the Minor Prophets by Gary E. Yates and Richard Alan Fuhr is a timely book that deserves to be read and utilized broadly. If you are studying, planning to study, teaching, or planning to teach on the Minor Prophets this is a book that should not be overlooked. It will both encourage and ignite a newfound passion for what we can only hope will have been a formerly neglected section of the Old Testament. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and 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.

Review: The Mind of the Spirit

27066913The Mind of the Spirit: Paul’s Approach to Transformed Thinking by Craig S. Keener is both dense with detail and saturated with a familiarity of the Greco-Roman world. This isn’t a book for the faint of heart, but the payoff is well worth the journey. Keener seeks to provide a contrast between the corrupted mind and the transformed mind, not by providing a long list of rules and regulations, but rather by presenting various windows into a new reality (p. 253).

Transformed thinking (or the renewing of mind) is the result of embodying the mindset of Christ and contemplating the things of God. This reality, according to Keener, is a continual and daily undertaking for the believer. Keener explains, “Walking by the Spirit rather than by the flesh requires a continuing, deliberate rethinking and retuning, with many determined decisions to believe God’s truth about our identity, until our brain is rewired enough that the new way becomes the more prevalent way” (p.263). Thus, the renewing of the mind is actualized by regular and predictable patterns of thought and reflection upon the things of Christ.

While this is a necessary task for the believer, and one aided by the transforming power of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit, it is likewise an increasingly difficult task. There exists today a tension in this world (and churches) that seems to negate the need for a transformed mind in the life of the believer. Keener rightly reminds the reader that despite the overwhelming joy of a life governed by the transformed mind of the Spirit, such is by no means an escape from the realities of the tension and conflict in this life (p. 258). That is, for Keener, taking up the mind of the Spirit is a daily endeavor that takes discipline and determination despite the world around us.

The aim of The Mind of the Spirit is admirable and Keener has accomplished his purpose therein with much to be praised. Keener’s expertise in the background literature of the New Testament and his deep-seated longing to see the people of God flourish in all that God has for them in this life is contagious. This is a much needed subject of discussion that has, until now received very little serious and scholarly attention. The reader will appreciate the clarity and conviction that Keener has brought to the table, and leave encouraged knowing that such transformation is available today—indeed, available now! This is a book that will be read across Christian disciplines for many years to come. It comes highly recommended!!

 

I received a review copy of this books in exchange for and 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.

Review: Paul and Judaism Revisited

17364976Paul and Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation by Preston Sprinkle is an exciting and refreshing investigation into the thought and theology of Paul as it relates to Second Temple Judaism. This book follows in the footsteps of Sprinkle’s previous work Law and Life: The Interpretation of Leviticus 18:5 in Early Judaism and in Paul (2008). In fact, much of the research and questions answered in Paul and Judaism Revisited arose out of the latter investigation. In both of these works, Sprinkle has shown with clarity the divergence of Pauline thought from that of Early Judaism and thus has provided a significant contribution to the ongoing conversation pegged by the New Perspective on Paul (NPP).

Paul and Judaism Revisited sets out “to compare soteriological motifs in Paul and Qumran in order to better understand how these two Second Temple communities understood divine and human agency in salvation” (p. 36). For Sprinkle, there appears to be no straightforward line of continuity between Paul and the Qumran communities concerning a singular soteriological motif. Moreover, as Sprinkle acknowledges, there doesn’t even appear to be a line of continuity within the Qumran community itself. This diversity adds to the complexity of understanding Paul and does much to undermine traditional and NPP soteriological claims. Sprinkle presents a portrait of Paul that is framed within a Prophetic Restoration structure rather than the Deuteronomic Restoration structure generally found in the Qumran communities.

Paul and Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation by Preston Sprinkle is an excellent book for anyone interested in Pauline thought concerning salvation, the NPP, Second Temple Judaism, and the intersection of any of these areas of study. Sprinkle has offered a fresh and up-to-date exploration of one of the most frequently traveled roads in biblical-theological studies today. While disagreement will assuredly come from those rooted within the NPP, the caliber of Sprinkle’s work cannot be denied, and his presentation should be praised. This is a book that will make you think long and hard about the external influences on Paul’s thought and theology, and provide grounds for reevaluation and consideration therein. As with all of Sprinkle’s books, this book comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this books in exchange for and 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.

Review: The Fourfold Gospel

26266705The Fourfold Gospel: A Theological Reading of the New Testament Portraits of Jesus by Francis Watson is a similarly exciting, and yet abbreviated exploration of Watson’s previous tome, Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective (Eerdmans, 2013). According to Watson, “The present attempt at a theological reading focuses throughout on the texts within that boundary [previously established in Gospel Writing] and on the theological questions they put to their interpreter, both individually and in their relation to one another” (p. viii). Much of this groundwork is established and revisited in the Prolegomena section that opens the book. It is here that the reader becomes thoroughly equipped for the fascinating journey ahead.

The Fourfold Gospel is divided into two major sections. The initial section seeks to establish each of the four Gospel accounts within the portrait of Jesus offered by the author. These turn out to be perspectives that are not only different in nature, but also complementary. Watson’s care and attentiveness to the overall framework of each Gospel is admirable, and without losing focus of the whole, Watson is able to seamlessly equip readers with the proper lenses needed to observe the major convergences discussed in the second section. It is here that Watson applauds the formative work of Eusebius’ Canon Tables in the establishment of a fourfold Gospel book and further delineates his thesis by examining the shared narrative across all four Gospels.

Overall, I found Watson’s work to be extremely beneficial and informative for reading and understanding the canonical gospels. I appreciated the unified approach that Watson embodied as he wrestled with their similarities and differences, as well as the challenges that have been created by a “gospel harmonies” reading of the narratives. As Watson rightly notes, “gospel harmonies created far more problems than they solved. It seems that the fourfold gospel is not intended to provide a singular “life of Jesus” in which each incident and saying is assigned to its original historical context. Its relation to reality is more complex—and more interesting—than that” (p. 88). This observation alone helps reconcile more internal problems than most other attempts traditionally seen combined, and this is only one of many nuggets to be unearthed in this study.

The Fourfold Gospel: A Theological Reading of the New Testament Portraits of Jesus by Francis Watson is a significant contribution to the ongoing exploration of contemporary Gospel Studies. It is a welcome companion, and, in many ways an extended appendix to Watson’s previous book Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective. Watson has invited the reader into a world that had been plagued by the displeasure of recurring academic dust and has effectively breathed within it a newfound sense of vibrancy and life. Watson’s undeniable expertise and his ability to communicate to a broad readership had already position this book for success, even prior to its publication. However, what was previously expected now looks petty compared to what Watson actually delivered. The Fourfold Gospel is a book that you will want to read, and do so more than once. It comes highly recommended!!     

 

I received a review copy of this book 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.

Review: A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament

9780190238599Michael D. Coogan is Lecturer of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at Harvard Divinity School, Director of Publications for the Harvard Semitic Museum, Editor-in-Chief of Oxford Biblical Studies Online, and Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Stonehill College. Coogan is a respected and accomplished author of numerous scholarly publications and General Editor of The New Oxford Annotated Bible (4th ed.). Most recently, Coogan released an updated and revised edition of his well-known Old Testament textbook—an introductory textbook that is commonplace among undergraduate classrooms.

A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament: The Hebrew Bible in Its Context (3rd ed.) is largely a more condensed rendering of The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures (3rd ed.). The latter being more technical and detail than the former. For this updated and revised edition Coogan invited a collaborator, Cynthia R. Chapman of Oberlin College, to provide fresh insight and perspective. However, as Coogan explains in the preface, “She brought to the revision not just a fresh perspective, but also expertise in gender theory and anthropological approaches to the study of the Bible” (xix).

Coogan and Chapman have sought to provide updates and revisions throughout the volume that present the most recent scholarship with clarity, accuracy, and accessibility (xx). Moreover, the sections of the volume that deal with women have been more fully integrated into the context of the specific section rather than marginalized into subsections. Likewise, many interested readers will celebrate Coogan’s decision to decrease previous emphasis on the Documentary Hypothesis, and increase discussion of other interpretive strategies and methodologies of the Torah. These changes alone make this edition a welcomed and more balanced experienced.

Those familiar with the previous editions will recognize and rejoice in the overall layout of the volume. Each chapter begins with a short introduction that connects the previous section to the coming material, and closes with a summary section to review the material discussed. Within this framework Coogan has highlighted important names and terms, provided a list of curated review questions, and offered the readers a brief bibliography for further study. At the end of the book the reader will find a general bibliography organized topically for ease of use, a glossary of all the highlighted words for quick reference, and an index for ease of navigation.

A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament: The Hebrew Bible in Its Context (3rd ed.) by Michael D. Coogan and Cynthia R. Chapman provides a welcomed revision to an already well-known and well-received classic. Everything previously praised about this volume remains, and what has changed should only warrant additional adoration. While much of the content in this volume will come with criticism and disagreement from more conservative readers, Coogan has offered an introduction worth engaging for readers with a keen awareness of the underlying issues. This is an Old Testament introduction that you will want on your shelf. Who knows you may even need it for class one day. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book 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.

Review: Alms

26590273David J. Downs is Associate Professor of New Testament Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. Downs has an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary and a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary. Downs is the author of The Offering of the Gentiles: Paul’s Collection for Jerusalem in Its Chronological, Cultural, and Cultic Context and co-editor of The Unrelenting God: Essays on God’s Action in Scripture in Honor of Beverly Roberts Gaventa. Most recently, Downs has delivered a blockbuster examination into the charitable giving of the early Christian movement.

Alms: Charity, Reward, and Atonement in Early Christianity looks to overturn the Western idea of charitable giving—or more precisely “almsgiving”—as a means to bring about social reform or personal identity, instead positing the notion that early Christians were compelled to give as an efficacious means of atoning for sin. Almsgiving according to Downs, “refers rather broadly to the merciful provision of material assistance to those in need, including monetary distributions, food, clothing, and shelter” (p. 6). Thus, “atoning almsgiving” is the means by which almsgiving is understood to bring with it redemptive and meritorious qualities—a framework of “charity as a means of cancelling, cleansing, covering, extinguishing, lightening, or in some way atoning for human sin and/or its consequences” (p.7).

Downs’ exploration to establish the above reality is ambitious and at times may be too complex for some readers. In fact, if the subject matter is as important and pervasive as Downs contends, then I would assume an abbreviated version would be helpful for the average reader. That said, the average reader will still be able to glean from Downs’ overall argument. The foundation of the book begins in the OT (specifically the LXX) where Downs’ observes a profound relation between charity and reward in Deuteronomy and Proverbs among others. Next, similar observations are concluded within the Apocrypha (specifically Tobit and Sirach), the NT literature, the Patristic literature, and well into the second and third centuries. The notion of “atoning almsgiving” is then traced from the foundation (OT and Apocrypha) through the NT and into the early Christian Church (Basil of Caesarea, Clement of Alexandra, John Chrysostom, Origen, Tertullian, etc.), as observation upon observation are examined and presented to the reader.

While Downs’ is neither the first nor the last to make such observations concerning the practice of giving in the early Christianity (see Redemptive Almsgiving in Early Christianity by Roman Garrison), I am confident that Alms: Charity, Reward, and Atonement in Early Christianity is among the best, and it will be studied for many years to come. Still, as I mentioned above, there is an opportunity for such notions to be brought into a more condensed package for laity. Moreover, while Downs was thorough in his approach (sometime overly so), I still found myself at times very much unconvinced by his conclusions. This could be a lack of exposure to the concept that is being presented, or it could be that Downs’ argument for “atoning almsgiving” in the early Christian movement is not as established as he thinks. It is likely the former.

Alms: Charity, Reward, and Atonement in Early Christianity by David J. Downs is an important book that demands consideration. This meticulous study will become an essential read for any one interested in the study of early Christianity. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book 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.