June 2016


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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Psalms Vol 3 by Allen RossAllen P. Ross has concluded his three volume commentary set on the Psalms for the Kregel Exegetical Library with Volume 3 (90-150). For those who might choose to jump into the second or third volume they will need to refer to the first for introductory material to the book. The introduction of the book covers a number of issues related to the Psalms. Among other things there is a short history of the interpretation of Psalms, discussion on the various types of Psalms (praise, lament, etc.), a guide on types of literary features within the various Psalms and a short intro to the theology of the Psalms. Concluding the introduction is a brief overview of the exegetical method employed throughout the book. Ross offers a number of helpful tips and guidelines for the exegesis process.

Each chapter follows the same structure:

  1. Introduction – This is an overview of the Psalm itself touching on unique interpretive features along with a discussion of any textual variants in the footnotes.
  2. Composition and Context – This looks at the overall features of the Psalm such as the historical, theological, biblical and literary context of each individual Psalm. This prepares the reader for the next three parts.
  3. Exegetical Analysis – This includes a one line summary of the message of the Psalm and the basic outline.
  4. Commentary in Expository Form – This section comprises the bulk of each chapter and has an exegetical outline followed by detailed commentary.
  5. Message and Application – Here the message of each Psalm is summarized and contemporary and timeless application is given.

The completion of this third volume gives the interpreter over 3,000 pages of a commentary on Psalms. This is an impressive feat for a commentary on any book of the Bible, let alone Psalms. This set of commentaries seems to be well received and I trust it will be well liked and recommended by exegetes, scholars, teachers and pastors for many years to come.

This commentary is written for the pastor with the educated layman in mind as well. The only area in which it might have improved was in the theology of the Psalms as a book and as individuals but that is not the primary purpose of the book. Ross is keen on exegesis and models it well. He has a good grasp of how the Psalms speak to all of life’s experiences and how the Psalms still speak to the church today. I recommend Psalms Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3 by Ross for all pastors, Bible students and laymen alike.

NOTE: I received this book from Kregel in return of a review but was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics by BartholomewWhen it comes to the field of hermeneutics there are those who rehash ideas and those who shape and create. Craig G. Bartholomew is a shaper and creator. For decades Bartholomew has been reading, writing, and speaking on hermeneutics. Some of his most notable books along these lines have been The Drama of Scripture (2nd Ed.) and the now nine volume Scripture and Hermeneutics Serieswith another on the way.

Bartholomew has recently written two new books on hermeneutics one of which is Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Framework for Hearing God in Scripture (Baker Academic, 2016). Those familiar with the Scripture and Hermeneutics Series will recognize some echoes of those works (albeit much more condensed) as well as those of his other works.

Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics is a condensed version of Bartholomew’s lifetime work on hermeneutics. While Bartholomew is a shaper of the field, this book is more of an overview of the field itself as Bartholomew has studied it. He is giving the reader a look at various aspects of the field and how they have been developed over the life of the church. This is not a ground level introduction on the basics of hermeneutics but an academic introduction to the more broad issues at hand.

There are several features of this work which rise above and tie the book together. First, Bartholomew believes that hermeneutics must be christocentric (as the writers of Scripture were) and trinitrian (since the Bible is about God). Christ is the central person to which Scripture points and Christ operates and exists within the trinity. We must get Jesus and the trinity at the center of the Bible and our understanding of it in order to rightly interpret Scripture (8).

Second, Bartholomew places a high priority on reading and interpreting Scripture in the context of the church. It is through a historical theological lens that issues like biblical theology and the relationship between philosophy and Scripture are discussed. The church has a primary role in the interpretation of Scripture and places like the academy/scholarship are to submit themselves to it (468-74).

Third, as the subtitle states, this is a book about hearing God in Scripture. Bartholomew builds his theology of hearing Scripture on the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear Oh Israel!” This is a call to listen to the words of God. God is addressing his people and his people must hear! To Bartholomew, this is a necessary spiritual discipline that all interpreters of the Bible must practice.

Finally, this is a book that reflects a deep, well-informed, critical, and engaging mind. Bartholomew has drank deep at the well on the issues he tackles and has contributed to the well himself. He offers carefully nuanced reflection on the current state of hermeneutics and challenges those in the field in ares they can improve on.

Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics is the reflection of a lifetime’s work in the area of hermeneutics. There are few who could have written a book of this magnitude with the same depth of analysis, knowledge and understanding of the field. Bartholomew has simultaneously summarized the field of hermeneutics (as he sees it) and given charitable critique as a way forward for the church.

I received this book for free from Baker Academic 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.”