March 2015


Acts by Guy WatersOne of the most fascinating historical books in the Bible is Acts. If you want a fast paced historical walk through the first century church then Acts is the place to go. Written by the detailed author Luke, Acts gives us a look at the birth of the church at Pentecost, the vast ministry of Paul and his missionary journeys, the ups and downs of the growth of the church, and the clear work of the Holy Spirit as He drives the gospel along into the hearts of those who hear it.

While there is no shortage of commentaries on the book of Acts, not all of them are worth while to have. One such worth while commentary is the new Evangelical Press Study Commentary Acts by Guy Prentiss Waters (2015).

Having skimmed through most of the book and read through several sections thoroughly, Waters has done a good job of steering the reader through the text in a faithful manner. He interacts with the Greek text, emphasizes the rich historical details of the text, and in some cases makes you wonder what else a more thorough commentary would add.

At just over 600 pages long, Waters has managed to produce a commentary that is textually grounded, historically focused, theologically rich, and with an eye to practical application. Waters book is not exhaustive such that it tracks down every single historical detail but enough is touched on as to satisfy the reader and not feel like you missed a lot. The book is very readable and focuses on clarity versus nitty gritty detail. Waters writes from a Reformed perspective and as such all theological interpretations and practical applications are guided by those commitments.

I recommend Acts by Guy Waters for any serious student of the Bible whether it be a college course, sermon prep, or Christians wanting to gain a better understanding of the book.

I received this book for free from Evangelical Press through Cross Focused Reviews 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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Exodus by RykenThere are times when reading the Bible that I have to sit back and laughingly say to myself, “You can’t make this stuff up!” The events that take place and the people involved provide for comic relief and sobering self-reflection, among many other thoughts and feeling. The book of Exodus is one such book that draws upon the reader a wide array of thoughts and feelings. Its characters, like Moses and Pharaoh, seem larger than life and the events that take place send ripples throughout the rest of history.

As part of the Preaching the Word series, edited by R. Kent Hughes, pastor and theologian Philip Graham Ryken has has written Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory. Theses commentaries are the book form of sermon series preached on the books of the Bible. They are written by pastors for pastors. As such they are intensely tied to the text of Scripture with plenty of relevant application that is personally and socially aimed. For those familiar with Philip Graham Ryken you will not be disappointed. Ryken provides the insightful commentary that he is known for which is tied closely to the text. He shows an adept ability to draw the reader into the text through commentary and contemporary observation.

Theologically, Graham is Evangelical, Reformed, and his outlook on Exodus is that it points to the glory of God in the salvation of His people and points towards Christ at very turn. Graham sees the life of Moses and Jesus as intimately tied together. Also, “the exodus set the pattern for the life of Christ.” (23) Just as Moses came out of Egypt so did Jesus. Just as Moses led God’s people through the wilderness so did Jesus. Further, because the exodus is a pattern of what Christ has done for His people, it is also a pattern of the Christian life. “Since the exodus is a story of deliverance from bondage through the work of a savior, it is the story of the Christian life.” (24) Thus, Graham affirms with Paul that Exodus is practical for the Christian life (1 Cor. 10:11).

Historically, Graham does not shy away from dealing with the vast array of competing historical views on the various events like the plagues in Egypt, the Exodus event itself, and the Mt. Sinai account. While seeing a good case to be made for an early or late date of the exodus, Graham favors the early date (22). He views the plagues as a picture of the battle between God and Satan which has played itself out in history. For Graham, all of the plagues actually happened as they are presented. While some are happy to see the first plague (river of blood) as the water turning into something like blood, Graham is insistent that it was literal blood (219-20). The crossing of the Red Sea, the death of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea, the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai and the golden calf incident are all events that happened in history. They are not myth,  they are not legend, and they are not metaphorical stories made up in order to make sense of Israel’s past and give them hope for a future.

Practically, Graham weaves the lessons learned about God and His people into the lives of his readers. Since Moses and the exodus are a pattern of Christ’s person and work and the exodus is a pattern of the Christian life, Graham is equipped to make ample application for us today. Just as God brought Israel out of bondage in Egypt so He brings His people today out of bondage from sin. It is through Jesus that this is accomplished. Graham sums up the book of Exodus in the last paragraph of the book:

Once we we re in bondage to sin, enslaved by its tyranny. But through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – our Passover Lamb – God has delivered us from the Egypt of our sin. Now he is leading us through our earthly wilderness, with all its difficulties and dangers. The great God of the exodus will never leave us or forsake us. In the church he has set up a sanctuary where even now we may enter his presence for worship. And one day son Jesus will come down in glory to take us up into the glory that will never end. Everyone who trusts in him will be saved for the glory of God. (1164)

For more reasons than I can list here I heartily recommend Graham’s commentary on Exodus. It is a faithful mix of exegetical and biblical groundedness and theological sharpness. Graham shows that even a book like Exodus is not boring and is full of spiritual life for the church today. This commentary reaches to both the needs of pastors and layman alike and I recommend it for all to use.

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.”

A Theology for the ChurchSystematic theologies are invaluable resources for the church. They are as varied as the authors who write them and some are more beneficial than others.  The preponderance of systematic theologies are written by individuals within a denominational/theological tradition. While there are many books on specific topics written by various contributors, this is not the case with systematic theologies. So it is unique and a bit refreshing when a systematic theology does comes along that breaks the individual author mold.

One of these few contributions is A Theology for the Church, Revised Edition edited by Daniel L. Akin. First published in 2007, the revised edition has new chapters on theological method from a missional perspective by Bruce Ashford and Keith Whitfield and a theology of creation, providence, and Sabbath by Chad Owen Brad which engages current research in science and philosophy. Additionally, the chapters on special revelation by David Dockery and human nature by John Hammett have been updated.

Outline

A Theology for the Church follows the standard outline of systematic theology starting with the doctrine of revelation and concluding with the doctrine of the end times. Each chapter approaches these doctrines through a fourfold pattern: (1) What does the Bible say? (2) What has the church believed? (3) How does it all fit together? and (4) How does this doctrine impact the church today?

In addressing What does the Bible Say? the authors approach their work by walking through the unfolding of Scripture (Genesis to Revelation) and so so in a variety of ways. Some chapters (natural revelation and person of Christ) walk through specific passages of Scripture to answer this question. Others (special revelation, human nature, and the church) address the doctrine topically while supporting it with Scripture, much like most systematic theologies are written. Still others employ these methods and more. In the chapter on the doctrine of God Timothy George explores the nature of God by looking at His attributes and names as revealed in Scripture. In R. Stanton Norman’s chapter on human sinfulness he looks at the various terms in Scripture used to describe the nature of man and the chapter on eschatology breaks it down between the testaments.

What marks the first section of the chapters is a clear desire to be faithful to the text of Scripture. The original languages and context are considered exegetically. The relationship between the testaments are mentioned where applicable. The contributors are not seeking to carve out their own names but are focused on declaring “Thus says the Lord” on every doctrine.

Following the first section is the section on What has the church believed? in which the authors provide a brief 30,000 foot view from the sky outline of how the church, in different denominations, eras, and significant theologians, has understood these doctrines. Most of the chapters provide a summary of thought from the Patristic, Medival, Reformation, and Modern periods. Some chapters (like natural and special revelation, angels, and eschatology) have an additional section on the Baptist understanding in history. Further, some chapters are much more expansive in their historical treatment such as the chapter on natural revelation which presents the theology of individuals and eras.

While an historical look at a doctrine can often be the weakest section of a systematic theology, this section is helpful, if for no other reason, then to show that the history of Christian thought on doctrine is not as monolithic as some suggest or wish. In a book like this that is decidedly Baptist in nature, it is welcoming to see the writers show where their understanding fits against the backdrop of 2,000 years of previous thought and reflection on Scripture. My only critique of this section is that for a book that is Baptist in nature it would have been more fitting to have a Baptist section in every chapter and not just some.

The third section How does it all fit together? seeks to systematize what was explored and discussed in the What does the Bible say? section while drawing on the What has the church believed? section. Here the doctrinal conclusions are formulated while humbling acknowledging the tension that we, as theologians and readers of the text, though finite in our understanding, can know and understand when God speaks because we are made in God’s image with the ability to communicate. While there is some overlap in this section and the first section because the Biblical text is discussed in both, this section seeks to systematize the Biblical data and draw reasonable conclusions.

While all of the contributors are Baptist it is in this section that one can begin to see differences in theology that go beyond their polity. For instance, while Al Mohler Jr., Timothy George, Mark Dever are Calvinists in their soteriology, those who wrote the key chapters covering salvation issues (Paige Patterson covering the atonement in The Work of Christ and Kenneth Keathley covering election in The Work of God: Salvation) are not Calvinists. This is not a criticism, merely an observation. Further, there is a clear difference between the eschatology of Mark Dever, who wrote the chapter on the church and is an amillennialist, and Russell Moore, who writes the chapter on eschatology and is a pre-tribulationalist. While Dever does not believe the Church is Israel (606) he does seem to pair them in closer connection together than Moore does (706-08).

In the final section How does this doctrine impact the church today? the contributors seek to bring relevance to what has been discussed in the three previous sections. Most of these sections are good and some are much shorter than others. It is here that some of the theological differences between the contributors will come more to light and readers might express more disagreement with. All in all, there is much to learn from these sections.

Conclusion

A Theology for the Church tips its hat to whom it serves in its title – the Church. While they do not shy away from theological language and interaction with the original languages, the contributors have written a systematic theology that serves their Baptist audience. This book is thoroughly Evangelical, exegetically grounded in Scripture, historically sensitive, and its practical application is both timeless and timely.

I recommend this systematic theology alongside others that have become staples for Baptists and all Evangelicals alike.

I received this book for free from B&H 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.”