Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology by Thomas McCallIf you have ever read the works of authors like Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstoff, Oliver Crisp, Paul Helm or Richard Swinburne then you have most likely read a work of analytical philosophy or analytical theology. While analytic philosophy has had a long history of use, analytic theology is rather new to the scene.

Analytic theology is a budding field that is making its mark within the broader theological world. But if, like me, you are not as familiar with analytical theology as you would like to be then Thomas H. McCall’s new book An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology (IVP, 2016) is just for you. McCall is an analytic theologian himself who teaches biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. His two previous works of analytic theology are Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? and Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why It Matters.

What is Analytical Theology…

While there are more complex explanations of analytical theology, in short, it “signifies the commitment to employ the conceptual tools of analytic philosophy where those tools might be helpful in the work of constructive Christian theology.” (16) This naturally begs the question as to what analytic philosophy is. While there is no final consensus, there is general agreement that it includes things like conceptual precision (Smith), logical rigour and clarity (Crisp), and a style and ambition that is similar to that of analytical philosophy (Rae). (17-18)

Analytical Christian theology requires its practitioners to know not only the relevant areas of philosophy but further, and more particular to its task, the Christian Scriptures, historical theology, posses an ability to engage culture with its ideas, and “seek to articulate what we may know of God as God has revealed himself to us.” (22) As such, analytical theology is serious about the task of theology. While some chide its existence because “they worry that analytic theologians bypass and effectively ignore God’s own revelation as it occurs ultimately in the incarnation of the Holy Son and reliably in the Bible as Holy Scripture,” it actually places a high priority on the Christian Scriptures as its foundational source of authority and orients itself towards a focus on Jesus Christ.

So Christian analytic theology is the application of analytic philosophy to the task of Christian theology. It is not an enemy of theology but rather a helpful friend. But how, why, and what does it matter to theology if we apply the principles of analytic philosophy to it?

… And Why Does It Matter?

While most, yea, even the vast majority of Christians will never engage in analytic theology, it does have a place within the church (both the academy and the local church) as a means to benefiting the average Christian. What one will realize time and time again while reading this book is that analytic theology is a work of systematic theology while utilizing the more rigorous tools of analytic philosophy. Your average systematic theology textbook, while dipping into philosophy, historical theology, and other fields to inform it, is not engaging in analytical theology. The analytical aspect takes the task of theology to the next level so to speak. “Analytic theology, as a kind of systematic theology, tends especially to be concerned with a focus on logical coherence.” (57) This is not to say that systematic theologians are not concerned with logical coherence but it is to say that analytic theology more directly addresses the issue and works it out more in its practice.

While most Christians, even some theologians, may turn a blind eye to this field of work, analytic theology offers the Christian church a service in the work of theology. For instance, McCall tackles several areas of theology to which he applies analytic theology as a means of showing its relevance and use. One such area of study to which McCall applies analytical theology to is historical theology. This is commonly called retrieval theology or constructive analytic theology. “This work actively evaluates various theological proposals from the tradition, and does so critically as it tries to mine the riches of the tradition for theological materials that will be useful in constructive work.” (85) So it goes beyond the traditional practice of “repetition and description” as characterizes historical theology (90), and seeks to further develop a specific theological issue from an historical perspective in a more contemporary context. It seeks to carry the work of the past into the present with the idea of further theological development and application.

Other areas McCall applies the work of analytical theology to are kenosis theology within Christology, physicalist theology in Christology, and the historical Adam in relation to evolution and creation. In respect to the third issue, McCall shows how analytic theology helps one to wade through the various differences in the use of the term evolution. One definition does not fit all when it comes to the use of the term as can be seen in the six different uses of the term McCall describes: old earth, simple to complex life, descent with modification, common ancestry, naturalistic mechanism, and naturalist origins (136-37). In evaluating Peter Enns’ book The Evolution of Adam, McCall points out that he uses the definition of at least five of those listed above in the conclusion to his book but without proper distinction. This is confusing at best. The point to see here is that the way in which McCall goes about examining the various references to evolution in Enns’ work is an exercise in analytic theology. He is applying rigorous, logical, precise, and clear argumentation is his examination of Enns’ work in order to bring more clarity to the issue.

To What End is Analytic Christian Theology? 

Analytic Christian theology would be distinct from analytic philosophy (philosophy of religion), or merely analytic theology, in that it is intentionally practiced for the glory of God and the service of the church. Analytic theologians are not rogue theologians seeking to blaze their own trail of tradition or fame. McCall suggests that “it should be grounded in Holy Scripture, informed by the Christian tradition and attentive to the potential and pressing challenges faced by God’s people in God’s world.” (161) It is to have a Trinitarian focus in its product and its practitioners are to be marked with the same Christian character to which all Christians are called to in their life and work (166-70).

Conclusion

An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology accomplishes its task of introducing and orienting its readers to the task of analytic Christian theology. Far from a merely academic endeavor, analytic Christian theology enjoys the role of applying the rigors of analytic philosophy to systematic theology and the like to produce a more robust, coherent, logical, and ultimately God glorifying theology.

McCall has pulled the curtain back and invited us into a field to which all theologians ought to aspire to practice. If truth matters, and it does, then we ought to strive to be more and more truthful about how we present the truth of God. Analytical theology will help Christian theologians do that. Not only for theologians, I believe that the basic ideas and goals driving  analytic Christian theology ought to characterize any serious Christian or ministry leader who wants to do theology for the glory of God. I highly recommend this book for Christians who are serious about thinking, doing, and writing good theology.

I received this book for free from the IVP for this 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.”

 

 

 

NIV Cult Back Study Bible


The mantra of Bible interpreters the world over is context, context, context. You can twist the Bible into supporting virtually anything you want but when you read and interpret the Bible in its context then everything changes.

Context changes everything is the slogan Zondervan Bibles has chosen to showcase their new Bible the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (2016). Containing the full text of the NIV version of the Bible, this study Bible is edited by world renown scholars John H. Walton (OT) and Craig S. Kenner (NT). While this study Bible draws on the work of many scholars, Dr. Walton has drawn extensively on his own work in the Zondervan Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Old Testament and Dr. Keener has drawn on his work in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament.

While there are numerous good study Bible’s out there in a number of good translations, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible stands apart from the rest for a number of reasons. Written with the purpose “to increase your understanding of the cultural nuances behind the text of God’s Word,” the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible “has been developed with the goal of allowing readers to immerse themselves in the culture, the literature, the geography and the everyday life of the people to who the Bible was originally written.” There are several features of the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible which facilitate these stated goals and an example of each will be given from the book of Deuteronomy:

  1. Introductions – The introductions to each book orient the reader to any relevant issues related to the broader cultural, literary, and geographical settings to the book. Most of Deuteronomy addresses the re-giving of the Mosaic Law. Similar to the OT, there are numerous collections of laws from neighboring cultures such as the Sumerian Laws of Ur-Nammu and the Old Babylonian Laws of Eshnunna.
  2. Sidebars – Throughout each book there are full color pictures of cultural artifacts, geographical locations, and comparison or data charts which bring to light more detailed information about a key aspect of the text. In Deut. 27 there is a picture capturing Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal where the former mountain was a reminder of God’s covenantal blessing’s and the later God’s covenant curses.
  3. Study Notes – The bulk of the information about the text comes from the study notes themselves. In keeping with the stated purpose for this study Bible, these notes expand on the cultural, literary, and geographical issues in the text. As such, they do not primarily intend to address theological or practical issues, though they are sometimes given a nod in passing. This should not be seen as a weakness. For instance, in the notes on Deut. 6:4 which says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” they focus on the ancient near eastern (ANE) thought regarding deities and worship. Some of the notes say the following, “The claim that a deity is one or alone, as maybe Enlil and Baal, relates to the supremacy of that god’s rule….Another possibility is that this statement demands a unified view of Yahweh, in contrast to the views of the other Near Eastern peoples who would have many different shrines celebrating or emphasizing a different perspective or aspect of their gods.” (306) If you were to compare these notes of the same verse with those of the ESV Study Bible or even the NIV Zondervan Study Bible you will see a noticeable difference in the content of the discussion around the same topic.
  4. Articles – In addition to the sidebars, there are a few hundred short articles tackling various important issues raised in the text. For instance, there is an article addressing on Deut. 34 and the death of Moses and the authorship of Deuteronomy. In it the issue is raised as to whether or not Moses penned the entire book of Deuteronomy himself or if he had the help of trained scribes. At the back of the study Bible there is both a canonical and alphabetical list of the articles for quick reference.
  5. Ancient Near Eastern Parallels – This feature of the study Bible plays a major role in the formation of everything mentioned above. Much of the content of the notes draws on the parallels that the OT & NT text has to other cultures. Some will think the editors have gone too far with the comparisons. The intent is not to imply that the biblical text has simply copied ANE sources, historical accounts or cultural ways of life. Rather, the desire is to show the points of similarity and dissimilarity between the life lived by those who did not follow God and those who did. The point is to teach us about the text rather than imply that the biblical text is in some way inferior to the surrounding ANE cultures.

In addition to the printed options for the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible there is also an app for OliveTree where you can purchase either the study Bible itself or the notes. Both options work seamlessly in your app along side of your other books. You can also check out the OliveTree Bible study app which enables you to get the most out of all the tools in your library including the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. 

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is definitely a study Bible that you want to have on your shelf next to your other favorites. It truly has content that no other study Bible has and it adds to the readers understanding of the biblical text and the world surrounding it. It brings to life and clarity the world and point of the text in a way that no other study Bible does.

I received this book for free from the Zondervan for this 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.”

 

 

Adoptive Parent Toolbox by Mike BerryIf an aspiring young person were to ask you what they needed in order to be an electrician, lawyer, teacher, mechanic, business owner, or hair dresser what would you tell them? While the needs of each profession may vary, what is common to all is that each has a “toolbox” of sorts. The mechanic has a toolbox of tools he uses to fix vehicles, the hairdresser has a toolbox of hair care items, like combs and shampoo, they use to cut hair, and the teacher has a toolbox of tools necessary to teach their students. But what about people who are considering adopting a child into their family? Is there a “toolbox” for them?

Making a toolbox for adults considering adoption is exactly what eight-time adoptive husband and wife Mike and Kristin Berry do in their new book The Adoptive Parent Toolbox: Insights & Stories for the Journey (Lulu, 2016). The Berry’s are experienced adoptive parents who blog about their advice and a host of other adoption related issues at http://www.confessionsofanadoptiveparent.com. The content they provide is honest, uncut, and extremely helpful for hope-to-be adoptive parents to those who are living it in the trenches every day.

While adoption is growing throughout the US there are plenty of people who either do not know anything about how it works or have a lot of miss-information about it in general. Many times these two realities can keep people from pursuing adoption. As a three-time adoptive father, and husband of a wife who is very active in the adoptive community, there are several reasons why this book is must read material for adults considering adoption and will it will help to further educate people about adoption.

First, the Berry’s are honest about the realities of adoption. If you read just a few posts on their popular web site you will see that they do not hold any punches. They deal with special needs and severe attachment disorders so there is no looking at adoption through rose colored glasses for them. The happily-ever-after adoption story of Annie is not the norm. When people walk into adoption thinking they are saving a child from utter despair and that bringing an orphan into their homes will be nothing but pure bliss they are in for a rude awakening. Is adoption rewarding? Yes! Does adoption change both the parents and a child? Yes! Is it all roses with no thorns? No! Having a realistic picture of what to expect is the best thing you can do for yourself and the child(ren) you are going to adopt. “If your adoption experience is fueled by fantasy you are going to struggle more than you know.” (47) The Berry’s are clear about the potential costs of adoption, the relational issues in adoption such as attachment and trauma issues, and the potential extended family and friends issues that can surface from an adoption.

Second, this book is very comprehensive. This book covers the adoption process from the stage of considering it to being in the middle of dealing with severe trauma or RAD (reactive attachment disorder). They walk you through the process of raising financial support for your adoption, choosing an adoption agency, how to handle misconceptions with others about adoption, accepting the reality of what adoption looks like on a day-to-day basis, and how to find and develop community around yourself for support.

Third, woven throughout the book are real personal stories and experiences the Berry’s have had which get to the heart of showing you what they mean. They are living in the trenches of adoption every day and they lay themselves bare for your benefit. They share their experiences of what it is like to lose a child when an adoption falls through, what its like to live with a child who has RAD, and the real tension, struggle and growth adoption can put on a marriage. Also, they share the joys and victories of adoption in the lives of their children and their own. Adopting a child is like growing roses. There are lots of thorns that can prick you but those thorns are covering a beautiful flower. Orphans come into homes with lots of thorns that have to be carefully navigated but below those thorns are beautiful roses waiting to be nurtured and grown into healthy flowers.

Finally, the Berry’s understand the true nature of adoptive work. Going against the tide of the hero label the culture imposes on adoptive parents, the Berry’s rightly understand that adoption is not about being a child’s superman or wonder woman. Adoption is not a rescue mission. It is not radical a work. It ought to be a normal part of a local and global communities work to bring hope and transformation to the least among us.

Many people get into adoption with this idea that they are a superhero on a rescue mission, That’s not true. You adopt because it’s an opportunity to change lives, not because you’re amazing and want to spread your awsomeness to others! You do it because you want to transform this world and bring hope where there is hopelessness. Remember that. (37)

Further, the Berry’s understand the nature of adoption as it is an expression of their commitment as Christ followers.

The Adoptive Parent Toolbox is a welcome addition to the small but growing number of helpful books on adoption and will provide prospective adoptive parents with the starter tools necessary to begin the journey of adoption. If someone were considering adoption and wanted to know what three books they needed to read this will now be one of those three books.

This book is for anyone connected to anyone else in the adoption world. Prospective adoptive parents need to read this before they take their first steps towards adoption. Pastors and ministry leaders need to read this in order to better understand adoption and how to minister to those families in their churches that have adopted. Extended family, like adult siblings and especially parents whose adult children have adopted, need to read this book to better understand what life for their children and new grandchildren is like.

In fact, I challenge the Berry’s to write a book for extended families and close friends of adoptive families. There is as much a need to equip these people as there is for the adoptive families themselves and the Berry’s hint at this in the book. Many times the greatest misunderstandings and potential for hurt comes from those closest to adoptive families. The more family and friends understand what is involved in adoption the better they can help and support adoptive families. Until that book is written this is the one to read.

I received this book for free from the Berry’s for this 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.”

Eschatology Ed. by Bungham & KreiderDallas Theological Seminary (DTS) has been the flagship seminary for teaching and training ministry leaders Dispensational theology. For years, under the leadership of men like Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord, and Lewis Sperry Chafer, DTS taught Classic Dispensationalism (CD). Now, for more than a decade, DTS is at the forefront of developing Dispensational theology under what is commonly known as Progressive Dispensationalism (PD). The key difference between CD and PD is the relationship and realization of the New Covenant to the present day Church.

One such leader of PD is Craig Alan Blaising. In celebration of his work on PD over twenty contributors, including Daniel L. Block, David S. Dockery, Timothy George, Paige Patterson, Charles C. Ryrie, and David L. Turner, came together to write Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches under the editorial leadership of D. Jeffery Bingham and Glenn R. Kreider (Kregel, 2016).

The Man

In regards to his Dispensational roots, Blaising was trained at DTS where he completed his ThM (’76) and ThD (’79). Upon completing his ThD he became an Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at DTS in 1980 where he finished as a Professor of Systematic theology in 1995. He then moved onto Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1995 where he would teach theology until 2001. Since 2002 he has been teaching theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where he is currently the Jesse Hendley Chair of Biblical Theology.

His two primary contributions to PD have been Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition (1992) and Progressive Dispensationalism (1993) which he coedited with Darrell Bock. These books have made a lasting impact on the trajectory of Dispensational theology and showed that some of its proponents were trying to seek development within the system whether in response to criticism within or outside. What marked these books, thus allowing PD to separate itself from the CD of Ryrie, was their understanding of the present blessings of the New Covenant for the Church (and not just a future restored Israel).

The Book

As the title indicates, the book contains contributions which focus on the biblical, historical, and practical approaches to eschatology. The biblical approach is covered in the first two parts with a focus on general doctrinal foundations (Part I) and the doctrine of the future in various parts of the Bible (Part II). Part III covers a sprinkling of eschatological overview throughout church history ranging from the Apostolic Father and Origen to Jurgen Moltmann and more contemporary millennialism. The final section covers practical issues to which the doctrine of the future can be applied.

The overriding theme of the book is a focus on the hope given to believer’s in eschatology. Jesus is this hope and it is provided for us in his death, burial, resurrection, and future return. This theme of hope is present in almost every chapter of the book. Stanley D. Toussaint focuses his chapter on this concept and traces the idea from Genesis 3:15, where the hope is initially given, all the way to Revelation, where the hope is fully realized. Most books written on eschatology from a Dispensational perspective do not usually have this heavy of a focus on the hope Christ gives us in his return which is encouraging about this book.

There are two aspects of the books that stick out despite the encouraging focus on eschatological hope. First, there is an underlying, and almost overt at times, rift between CD and PD. As mentioned before, the defining separation between the two Dispensational systems centers on the present benefits of the NC. This becomes clear when one compares Ryrie’s chapter The Doctrine of the Future and the Weakening of Prophecy with the aim of the rest of the book. In less than six pages Ryrie argues that prophecy is weakened if we say that some or all of it is fulfilled now. Present fulfillment, he argues, “weakens the force of the entire body of biblical prophecy.” (73) This kind of statement cannot be supported and puts on in straight jacket when it comes to interpreting various prophetic passages and books. Prophecy is not weakened when it is fulfilled (even if that fulfillment is now), its fulfilled as Scripture said. It is not a categorical rejection of future prophecy to say that some of what was once thought to be future is in fact present. With the movement towards more present fulfillment of the NC within PD, Ryrie’s chapter seems a bit out of place in the whole book.

The second interesting aspect of this book, and more encouraging, is the very minor role Pre-tribulational Rapture theology plays. In fact, it is not even mentioned for the first 390 pages until Mark L. Bailey’s chapter The Doctrine of the Future and Dispensationalism. In it Bailey gives the standard defense for a pre-tribulation view. What might have been helpful for the book, and the position, is to include at least one chapter on historical background of the tribulation but some would argue that it would be hard to go back that far in time.

Conclusion

Near the end of the book David S. Dockery tries to reflect on the future contribution that PD makes towards millennialism. He recognizes that the rift within the Dispensational system has been on the timing and nature of the rapture and believes that “progressive dispensationalism is an attempt to bridge that divide.” (454) This seems to be the contribution, thus far, in regards to PD and eschatology; bridging the divide among Dispensationalist’s and between Dispensationalist’s and other views.

Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches is an encouraging book in that, coming from Dispensationalist’s, it focuses primarily on what ought to unite all eschatological views – the future hope for the world in Jesus Christ. Hope is the focus of all eschatological views and we ought to be able to at least acknowledge that no view has the corner on it.

I received this book for free from Kregel for this 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.”

Ruth by Daniel BlockWheaton College Old Testament professor and writer Daniel L. Block has recently written Ruth: A Discourse Analysis of the Hebrew Bible (Zondervan, 2015), which is part of the newer Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series on the Old and New Testaments. Block is also the general editor for the Old Testament portion of the series.

These commentaries separate themselves from other solid commentary series in the following ways:

  1. Main Idea – Basing itself on all of the work to follow, the main idea of the passage is briefly explained at the beginning of each chapter.
  2. Literary Context – Each passage is placed in its most immediate context and then within the broader context of the book itself.
  3. Translation and Exegetical Outline – In my mind this is where the commentary excels. The author provides a fresh translation of the passage which is accompanied by several features: (1) the passage is arranged line by line with corresponding chiastic structured labeling (1a, 1b, 1c – 2a, 2b, 2c), (2) the Hebrew text is line by line next to the translation, and (3) each movement of the text is identified in an outline format with short descriptions.
  4. Structure and Literary Forms – Here, the relevant and significant structural and literary features of the passage are briefly mentioned. This includes things like word repetition, changes in grammar, stylistic features, verb usages, etc.
  5. Explanation of the Text – While this is the bulk of any commentary, this section is predominately dominated by the literary structure of the passage. Compared to other exegetical commentaries, this section is noticeably shorter book for book but does not skimp on content. They get to the point and allow the other aspects to fill in.
  6. Canonical and Practical Significance – This final section links the passages connection to the rest of the book and the whole Bible when applicable. It also bridges the world of the Bible to today’s world with practical application that is sensitive to the context of the passage.

In regards to Block’s commentary on Ruth, the most notable feature under-girding all of his work in the book is his focus on Ruth as a drama. As such the pericopes are seen in terms of act’s in a play. Further, the translation of the book has a more narrative feel to it as compared to other standard translations.

While knowledge of Hebrew is certainly ideal, those who are not familiar with it will still gain much from Block’s work. Block is one of those writers who seems to hit a home run with every book he writes and this book is no exception. Though Block has already written a commentary on Ruth for the New American Commentary series, this time around gave him the chance to visit the text once again with new eyes and provide a fresh take on a familiar book.

I heartily recommend Ruth by Block for anyone looking to gain a better understanding of the book, especially from an exegetical and literary perspective.

I received this book for free from Zondervan for this 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.”

Biblical Theological Intro to OT and NT Ed. by Pelt and Kruger

Christ. Kingdom. Unity. These three words summarize the Christian worldview regarding the message of Scripture. Christ is the central figure of Scripture who accomplished redemption and to whom the Old and New Testaments point to. The kingdom is the “thematic framework” in which Christ the redeemer operates and to which every other theme of the Bible is tied to. Unity describes how Christ and kingdom are presented from Genesis to Revelation. Rather than each book standing on its own, disjointed from the others, and Christ and kingdom being haphazardly presented in Scripture, each theme is coherently and consistently presented in the sixty-six books of the Bible.

It is around these three themes that A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised and A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized have been written (Crossway, 2016). These two books are the product of professors, past and present, at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi and are edited by Miles V. Van Pelt (OT) and Michael J. Kruger (NT).

In short, these two volumes provide lay Christians, seminary students, and pastors with possibly the best biblical and theological introduction to all 66 books of the Bible from a decidedly Reformed perspective. There are several reasons why these books ought to be on your shelf.

First, these books accomplish the goal of presenting the overall biblical messages of Christ and his kingdom through the unity of Scripture. The authors do not take the higher critical road by fragmenting and juxtaposing the books of the Bible to each other. Rather, they see Scripture, as it presents itself; a unified whole with each book contributing to the overall themes, namely, Christ and kingdom. There is unity in the diversity. As Miles Van Pelt states in the preface to the Old Testament volume

Our goal is not to dismantle the Scriptures into as many unrelated parts as possible but rather to show how the vast, eclectic diversity of the Scriptures has been woven together by a single, divine author over the course of a millennium as the covenantal testimony to the person and word of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit according to the eternal decree of God the Father. (13, BTIOT).

Michael J. Kruger says as much in his introduction to the New Testament volume

Because God is the ultimate author of the New Testament writings, the distinctive theologies of individual books and the overall theology of the New Testament are fully harmonious. (23, BTINT)

Second, tying the themes of Christ and unity together, these books focus mainly (though not to the exclusion of traditional systematic theology categories) on the redemptive-historical nature of Scripture. If there were no unity to the books of the Bible we would be hard pressed to find overarching themes and a redemptive-historical focus might be impossible to argue. Much like reading the Bible straight through itself, reading these two volumes straight through will give the reader an amazing grasp on every book of the Bible in terms of its overall content, biblical context, and theological focus. If you need to read another book in order to be convinced of the redemptive-historical narrative of Scripture then this is one to get.

Third, tied to the second feature, each book is presented in its biblical-theological context. While some contributors do more or less than others on which aspect they focus more on, each chapter discusses how each book of the Bible fits into the overall message of Scripture (biblical) and what each book of the Bible uniquely contributes theologically (theological). This combination gives the reader a more balanced and broad understanding of each book of the Bible.

Fourth, as it relates to the Old Testament, they have taken the position to present the books in the order as they appear in final form in the Hebrew Bible. Van Pelt takes a few pages to discuss the history and rational for the varied ways the OT books have been ordered. Many Christians are not aware that there is more than one way the books of the Old Testament have been ordered depending on the text being used. In his chapter The Twelve, Daniel C. Timmer discusses the varied ways in which the minor prophets have been ordered. For some very enlightening discussion on why Proverbs, Ruth, and Song of Songs are in that order see Van Pelt’s chapter Song of Songs (419-20).

Finally, these books are highly accessible to the average Christian who knows their Bible fairly well and provide great content for pastors and teachers to help their congregations go deep into the text. Though the contributors are scholars, most of whom are ordained ministers and many of whom have pastoral experience, their scholarly experience has not prohibited them from producing a highly readable and accessible text. Their diversity of education and ministry experience is brought into these books and makes them that much better. This will probably be the standard biblical-theological introduction to the Bible from a Reformed perspective (or from any perspective for that matter) for years to come.

I cannot recommend A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament and A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament enough. These are solid, conservative, theological, biblical, and informed books that will help Christians better understand the broader message(s) of the Bible (Christ, kingdom, unity) as well as the many sub themes that play out in the text.

These are two books that should be standard texts for pastors and teachers and any Christian who desires to know the Bible better.

I received this book for free from Crossway for this 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.”

Habits for Our Holiness by Philip NationGenerations of Christians have rightly championed the practice of spiritual disciplines. Whether it be prayer, Bible reading, singing, worship or fasting, Scripture calls us to practice these things and to grow in our practice of them. They are the building blocks of the Christian life and means through which we grow in our walk with the Lord in Christ-likeness.

There are several classic works on the spiritual disciplines which have served Christians for decades and will continue to do so. Building on these works, pastor, teacher, and author Philip Nation has written Habits for Our Holiness: How the Spiritual Disciplines Grow Us Up, Draw Us Together, and Send Us Out (Moody, 2016).

Habits for Our Holiness is written in a way so as to show us what the spiritual disciplines are, how they are to be practiced individually and in community, and how they send us out into the world. While Nation does not necessarily break new ground in explaining the disciplines, he does provide the reader with a fresh look at them and seeks to broaden our view of what constitutes as a discipline and the contexts in which we are to practice them.

Nation roots all of the disciplines in love. “Love is the central discipline of the Christian life (13),” and as such “love is what propels habitual holiness and the desire to follow God into the world for His redeeming mission. Internal transformation (founded in our love for Christ) manifests itself in external action (Bible reading, fellowship, prayer, serving, giving, etc.) (25).” If the whole law can be summed up in the commands to love God and others, and Jesus’ life is perfectly marked by that same love (whom we are to follow), then it is only fitting to see the practice of the spiritual disciplines as expressions of love; love for God and love for others.

But Nation goes further than encouraging Christians to plant these spiritual disciplines in their lives. He weaves in the challenge to practice these disciplines with the body of Christ. As the subtitle states, what grows us up ought to draw us together. So when we pray, read the Bible, worship, evangelize, serve, and lead we don’t just practice these things for their own sake or our own selves. We do them in the context of the community of the faith – the body of Christ. We love others when we practice these disciplines with others. We study the Bible ourselves but we also do it with other believers. We pray by ourselves but we also pray with other believers. On fasting in community Nation says

As believers, fasting is a practice that can greatly strengthen our relationships with one another. Rather than allowing ourselves to remain at the proverbial surface level, we must be committed to another person’s spiritual well-being to enter a fast with them. It becomes a powerful testimony to friendship and ministry to each other when you skip meals as friends, a small group, or an entire church for the purpose of crying out to God for help and comfort. (97)

Finally, the disciplines that grow us up and draw us together also send us out. We don’t just practice them for our own selves or the body of Christ but we also practice them as a way of sending us out (missional) into the world to share the love of God in Christ so that they too might share in the blessings of these disciplines once they are brought into Christ’s salvation. For example, prayer can turn missional “when you seek for God’s kingdom to reign in the hearts of those living in your community.” (79)

Seeing the practice of the spiritual disciplines, not just in the personal arena but in the communal and missional as well, roots them within the context of discipleship which contains all three spheres. If we stop at personal application then we cut our own discipleship short. We cannot grow in the fullness of Christ-likeness if we merely relegate the practice of the spiritual disciplines to the personal realm. We must practice them in personal, communal, and missional contexts.

Habits for Our Holiness is a great book on the spiritual disciplines that should be read by Christians for generations to come. It is rooted in the history of its content and accomplishes the task of broadening the scope of the subject into communal and missional applications. If you want a fresh take on the spiritual disciplines to help you grow more then this is the book to read. Nation rightly applies the practice of the spiritual disciplines within the whole context of Christian discipleship.

I received this book for free from Moody Publishers for this 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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