I don’t know for certain, but my guess is that the early church did not need a lot of books or sermon series with titles involving words like “dangerous” or “extreme” or “radical.” If we need these books today, it is only to battle the complacency that can come when Christianity is a majority religion or an accepted religion. When Christianity is in the minority or when it is the object of persecution, life is already plenty dangerous.

Yawning At Tigers
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But our temptation is toward complacency and sometimes we do need a good shaking up, a good talking to. Drew Dyck delivers this in Yawning at Tigers which carries the subtitle You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying. The title conjures up an image of a tiger in a zoo, taken from the wild, penned into a little cage, pathetically pacing back and forth. When he is caged up we can approach him confidently, safely, at our own time, without any hesitation. But this is not God as he reveals himself in the Bible.

Dyck shakes up our complacency in two broad ways. In the first half of the book he looks at the way we can inadvertently shrink God down to our size, to a manageable size. We tend to do this by neglecting or redefining his holiness, by ignoring or writing-off his wrath. To combat this, Dyck draws the reader to God’s majestic holiness, his (dare I say it?) dangerous holiness—the kind of holiness that caused Isaiah to fall on his face and Uzzah to fall dead on the ground. Through several chapters he examines God’s holiness from several different angles and reveals this holy God as being infinitely better than any safe and manageable God we may prefer.

In the second half of the book he shows that we can also attempt to tame God by diminishing his love. Just as God’s holiness is too terrifying, his love is too unbelievable, so we try to make it make sense in light of our fallibility. “We take the infinite, divine love described in Scripture and place limits on it. We make it reasonable. We project our own faltering brand of affections heavenward and assume God’s love is as flawed as ours. Even as we pay lip service to God’s boundless mercy, we tabulate our shortcomings and wonder whether we’ve exhausted his grace.”

The book packs a powerful one-two punch with the emphasis on holiness followed by meditations on love. Dyck is a good writer—a very good writer—and his prose is lively and always interesting. The whole “God is dangerous” theme could easily be overplayed, but he doesn’t allow that to happen. He turns constantly to the Bible and to a host of good sources to back and extend his claims.

With all that said, I have some concerns about the book’s sources, which raises a question I’ve often considered: How much must a book be taken on its own merits and how much do we need to be concerned with secondary sources? In this case Dyck quotes a few books, authors, or people that I would be hesitant to promote. While he quotes them in such a way that they advance good points, a reader following footnotes might find himself reading books that may prove as unhelpful as Dyck’s book is helpful.

I also find myself concerned with some of his discussions on the immanence of Jesus. I understand that Christians are constantly attempting to properly account for both the transcendence and immanence of God, the fact that God exists beyond time and space and the fact that he is fully within it as well. One way the emphasis on immanence can go too far, at least as I understand it, is to suggest that we see Jesus himself in the faces of the poor or the downtrodden. That manifests itself in quotes like this: “When I touch a poor child, I touch Jesus Christ. When I listen to a poor child, I’m listening to God’s heart beating for all humanity.” There are traces of this in Yawning at Tigers and I think it is unnecessary; the book would have held up very well without it.

Those concerns aside, Yawning at Tigers accomplishes what it means to. It convicts us of the ways we have diminished God and encourages us to see God as he really is. It’s a sweet and powerful book and one that both blessed and encouraged me.


Missing Jesus
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Now this is a sweet little book. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I began reading Missing Jesus. The names Charles and Janet Morris were not ones I recognized immediately, though I had heard of their radio program HAVEN Today and think I may have been a guest once. What I found was a book that came like a cold cup of water on a hot day.

The book begins with the premise that sometimes we all feel like we’re missing something. We have put our faith in Christ and we are following him, attempting to live in obedience to him, and yet something still seems to be missing. We’re left wanting more. There are a thousand answers to this more; in fact, most of the Christian books that pour off the printing presses claim to have the answer. But the authors of this book say the answer is remarkably simple: We’re probably missing Jesus. What we need is to be reminded that we are caught up in a great, cosmic drama and what we need is to be reoriented to see that our small story is simply part of this much greater story.

The solution to our longing is not to look within ourselves or not to pursue the easy navel-gazing solutions we may encounter on the psychiatrist’s couch. The solution is to look outside of ourselves, to the Savior.

We’re like the solar system without the sun. The sun is so massive it can hold all the planets in their orbits, but we’re not the sun. We simply don’t have the gravity to hold our lives together even when we expend a lot of effort trying. What we need is the good news of Jesus Christ, the good news that we can look outside ourselves at last because God has provided everything we need in Jesus. God has sent his glorious Son into the world to be everything for us, to be the center of our lives, to draw us into fellowship with the living God. And it’s all by grace.

Unless we hear this news again and again, and unless we allow it to resound in our hearts, we soon grow cold, we lose sight of Jesus.

This book, then, offers many different views of the gospel and its countless benefits. The authors look at the gospel itself, they look at the importance of knowing the greater story that is unfolding around us, they glory in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they revel in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and the communion they can have with the living God, they war against pride and all attempts to steal the glory that is due to God. And on it goes. Through a series of short chapters—11 of them—they offer a sustained look at what Christ has done and how it matters to his people. They draw often from their own lives, both their successes and failures, and they draw deeply from many great Christian writers of days gone by.

If there is something that concerns me in the book it is that it may not stand out among the myriad books around it. But behind the unobtrusive cover and inconspicuous title is a sweet book that offers profound answers to one of life’s most common experiences. If you feel like you’re missing out, or you’re convinced that you’re missing Jesus, get it and read it. You won’t be sorry.

Over the past few years I have found myself thinking often about beauty. I suppose my interest in the subject may relate to the fact that I am the father of two girls. Though they are still young, they are already being exposed to so many messages about the importance of beauty and the kind of beauty society expects from them. They already know they will be judged on the basis of it. For this reason I want to equip them with a knowledge of what the Bible says about beauty. But what does it say? What should I be teaching them?

True Beauty
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Beauty is the subject of a new book from mother-daughter team Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre. In True Beauty they go looking beyond society’s perceptions and misperceptions of beauty and attempt to bring the Bible to bear. They do it well.

Before I had two daughters I had three younger sisters, and for years I heard them grapple with being beautiful, looking beautiful, feeling beautiful. I heard them as they asked questions about the appropriate standards for beauty and as they doubted all we tried to tell them. I saw them try to deal with the false gospel of beauty: that beauty equals happiness, that more beauty brings more happiness, and that to be without beauty is to be without hope and fulfillment. What they didn’t want to hear is the too-easy message that outer beauty is meaningless while inner beauty is everything.

They could have used this book. Speaking for both authors, Mahaney says, “My hope is that you too will be encouraged to bring every question about beauty and every struggle with your appearance to God’s Word. My prayer is that you will trust in his Word and submit to his Word, finding hope, freedom, and delight in the beauty of his truth.” It is only God’s Word that can direct us to the deepest and sweetest beauty.

The authors begin by grounding beauty in the image of God. Because we are all made in God’s image, we all have inherent beauty. If God is beautiful, then so too are we, having been made in his image. “We are not beautiful because we fit the popular ideal of beauty, and we are not ugly or unattractive because we don’t measure up. Our beauty as human beings is not derived from ourselves. It comes from a beautiful God.” From Creation they go to the Fall and then to the gospel, showing that the gospel lays a double claim to our taste for beauty, first through creation and then through redemption. True beauty, they say, is to behold and reflect the beauty of God.

From the source of beauty, they go to the heart, showing that human beings are glory thieves, eager to steal the glory that is rightly God’s. A woman who wishes to use beauty to draw attention to herself, is robbing God of the glory that is his. From the heart they move to the body and deal with common issues—body image, weight, and the like. They speak here of stewardship, they encourage women to care for their bodies in ways that serve the Lord, and they warn against grumbling and dissatisfaction. They move outward again from the body to the clothing, discussing the importance of modest dress and rightly showing that clothing is simply an outer reflection of the inner woman.

As the book begins to draw to a close, they look at two important New Testament texts that speak to inner beauty and outer beauty. A helpful appendix provides guidance to parents who want to help their children understand God’s perspective on the subject.

What you will not find in True Beauty is the all-too-common attitude that frumpiness is next to godliness. You will not find the authors trying to convince you that beauty is a problem, that Christian women ought to be ashamed of the beauty God has given them, that they’d better not do anything to enhance it. You won’t find them saying that character is all that matters. What you will find is simple, clear, practical teaching on the nature of beauty and the sheer goodness of beauty.

Society gets beauty all wrong. As we examine the messages we see and hear all around us, we quickly spot the presence of idolatry. The beautiful are worshiped, while the plain are ignored or even reviled. Beauty is a cultural god. Mahaney and Whitacre do an exemplary job of going to Scripture to bring God’s wisdom to bear. And, as we would expect, his perspective is infinitely better. This is a book for any woman—an especially any young woman—to read and absorb.

by Dan Phillips

(Logos Bible Software, 2011)

Logos' Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series continues to grow. I reviewed the first volume by Gary Derickson first, then the commentary on James by Will Varner, then the commentary on the Song of Songs by A. Boyd Luter. Refer to the first (Derickson) review to understand the well-designed aim and focus of this series, which Logos provides me for possible reviews such as this.

Though Logos is selling Colossians (by H. Wayne House) and Philemon (by Ehorn) together, only Philemon is currently available. A longtime lover (and teacher, and preacher) of Colossians, I'll likely review that volume for you when it is released. The author of this commentary is Seth Ehorn, who is in the doctoral
program for New Testament language, literature, and theology at the University of Edinburgh, New College. Before this, Ehorn distinguished himself in his Master's studies at Wheaton College Graduate School, and has been creating entries for journals and upcoming publications.

As to this commentary, the thoroughness and currency of documentation once again immediately makes an impression. Six of the three hundred and sixty-eight footnotes speckle the first paragraph alone, referring to lit from the 1920s to the 2000s.

Approaching Philemon, Ehorn notes the letter's the lack of explicit development of usual Pauline themes (resurrection, etc), and the fact that theologies seldom refer extensively to Philemon. Yet,

[d]espite these apparent lacunae, Philemon is not just a fine literary and rhetorical achievement. Nor is it just an interesting cultural artifact. …Presumably, Paul himself imagined that this letter would instigate great change in his hearers and especially in the life of a slave named Onesimus. Further, the multiple addressees in the letter seem to invite a wider readership, perhaps not only for the accountability of Paul’s request in the letter, but also for the edification of all who were addressed. It is in this latter sense that Philemon is to be understood as Christian Scripture.

In keeping with the brevity of the epistle, I'll keep my review briefer than some previous. I appreciated Ehorn's detailed and up-to-date attention to every aspect of the Greek text from every angle. I also appreciated the breadth and thoroughness of his documentation, which itself opens the doors to a lot of great material.

However what often stood out to me was Ehorn's reluctance to commit himself. Now, obviously one would not want a scholar to pretend certainty unwarranted by the evidence. Yet one has to admit that one wondered why Ehorn was chosen to write this particular commentary, given that he did not appear to have many singular insights to bring to light or trumpet.

For instance, we read, the epistle might have been written from Rome. Or maybe it was Ephesus. The evidence is inconclusive — though Ehorn makes an extended case for an (undocumented!) Ephesian imprisonment. Ehorn then argued against too tightly joining Colossians and Philemon, as is commonly done; he thinks Philemon precedes Colossians. By how long? Unknown. Or maybe it should really be connected with Philippians, instead of Colossians? Don't know. Finally, he concludes, “In the light of Paul’s request for lodging, it is easier to think that Paul wrote to Philemon from Ephesus than from Rome, thus probably between A.D. 52 and 55.” Oh, so Ephesus it is…maybe.

So, what is the letter about? Exactly who was Philemon? What was Onesimus’ relationship with him? Why was Onesimus absent from him? How did Onesimus come to encounter Paul? In response, Ehorn quotes C. S. Lewis: “Almost anything can be read into any book if you are determined enough,” adding:

These words—penned by C. S. Lewis—are acutely true of the letter to Philemon. All these questions are left unanswered by the letter that is both short in length and short on details. Of course, such information would have been unnecessary to include in the letter seeing as the recipients would have had intimate knowledge of such issues already. Thus, as modern interpreters we are operating at a deficit. We are reading only half of the conversation. Nevertheless, such historical distance (not to mention social, political, etc.) should not drive readers to despair. Rather, it should warrant caution against over interpretation and humility regarding conclusions.

I'll attest that Ehorn certainly heeds his own advice. For instance, what is the narrative frame to the epistle, the background? The traditional (fugitivus) hypothesis sees Onesimus as a runaway slave, converted by Paul's ministry, returned by Paul. But, Ehorn counters, this would be a legal offense, and no remorse is expressed by or for Onesimus. Ehorn floats other possibilities, then concludes that it is impossible to be sure. For his part, he is “tentatively inclined to follow the recent trend of interpreters who read the letter to Philemon as concerning a slave who intentionally sought Paul for intercession with his master.” But who knows?

Ehorn then says that the subject of slavery, peripheral to the book itself, has come to overshadow the actual content of the book. So no great help on that issue, here.

Ehorn makes good theological observations. For instance, though  Philemon doesn't stress usual Pauline themes, Ehorn notes that God and Christ (not the Spirit) are mentioned numerous times directly, and 2 passages feature the “divine passive” in two passages:

In two instances Paul employed the divine passive to indicate God as agent (vv 15, 22).61 Taken thusly, Paul not only hinted at the providential outworking of God in the details of Onesimus’ separation and return (v 15), but indicated that it was God who could grant him freedom from his imprisoned status (v 22). If God’s hand were involved in the separation of Onesimus from Philemon, then Philemon’s response to his slave would have to be tempered by his own view of the reality of God’s presence and providence in his life. Much like the circumstances of Joseph with his conniving brothers (cf. Gen 45:5, 8; 50:20; cf. also Esth 4:14), Philemon was summoned to look upon his circumstances and see them as the outworking of God. Perhaps with the clarity of hindsight, Philemon saw that the return of a slave who was now “useful” (v 11) and “a beloved brother” (v 16) was an act of God, who works “all things for the good of those who love him” (Rom 8:28).

This is a good example of Ehorn's theological sensitivity, and the useful material he produces.

Back to the issue of slavery. Ehorn hasn't much to contribute on the issue:

The relationship of Paul to slavery will be discussed only briefly in this section because of the publication of a recent monograph surveying studies on Paul and slavery and another recent collection of specific studies on Philemon. There is hardly necessity for an in-depth rehearsal of the trends of research on Philemon in view of these works. Suffice it to say, the general impact of the letter vis-à-vis slavery is presently in flux.

So Ehorn footnotes two academic works which are not in general circulation to explain why he won't have much to offer on the subject. I rather think it is a major issue in how we approach this book. Will it really do to say “I won't write very much about this (—in a commentary on the letter to slave-owner Philemon!) because some books few people own have”?

This is not to say that Ehorn has nothing to say on the issue. He notes J. M. G. Barclay's verdict that Paul's silence is “disturbing,” adding this:

One cannot help but agree with Barclay’s empathetic statement that, “one can only weep on behalf of those millions of slaves whose lives might have been immeasurably better had Paul been just a little less ‘poetic’ ” (125). This, however, is not so much a problem with Paul per se, as it is with the history of interpretation.

Then, without comment, Ehorn notes that Moo “concluded that Paul did not realize the full implications of the theology he explicated.” What? That sounds disturbingly like Paul K. Jewett's (and others') view on the issue of Paul and women pastors — that Paul just hadn't worked out his own theology yet, so the apostle (!) wrote in error in some passages. Does Moo think that? Does Ehorn agree with Moo?

While Ehorn writes and documents further, he does not really come to a conclusion, other than the conclusion that we do not know enough to come to a conclusion.

In fact later, commenting on vv. 15-16, Ehorn says Paul's “request was opaque.”

This [opaqueness] is demonstrated by the variegated readings of v 16 among commentators. For example, one commentator boldly opined that “Paul is telling Philemon that he surely must manumit Onesimus now that he and Onesimus are brothers in Christ” (Witherington, 80; cf. Bruce, 217; Wolter, 270–72; Fitzmyer, 114–15). Conversely, other scholars find no legal implications regarding the issue of slavery (Lohse, 206; O’Brien, 305–06). Still others find the statement ambiguous, permitting either reading (Stuhlmacher, 43–45; Dunn, 335–36). Or, perhaps as Barclay argues, Paul may have been purposefully ambiguous because he did not know specifically what to recommend.

Ehorn's conclusion? None, apart from affirming that slave and master are now brothers — which is important, to be sure. But is it really all that is warranted?

This is all introductory. Ehorn's commentary, proper, is very detailed, sensitive to nuances of word-choice and case. For instance, on Paul not using “apostle” in the opening words, Ehorn makes a valuable observation:

It is of no small significance that the title ἀπόστολος is not found in letter opening, nor in the document at all, for its absence was likely part of the rhetorical strategy of the letter. That is, Paul had no intention of appealing to his authority as an apostle (cf. vv 8–9). The use of the self-appellation δέσμιος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ [“prisoner of Christ Jesus”] sets the tone for the letter.

Ehorn's thoroughness is on display in his handling of verse 6 (ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεώς σου ἐνεργὴς γένηται ἐν ἐπιγνώσει παντὸς ἀγαθοῦ τοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν εἰς Χριστόν), which he notes contains “the most exegetical difficulties of the letter.” Ehorn contributes more than 2000 words (not including footnotes) of exegesis. First, he opens with an array of divergent translations, noting that even the NIV84 and current NIV differ. Here is his own translation: “that the fellowship produced by your faithfulness might become effective in the knowledge of every good thing that is yours for the sake of Messiah.”

Later, Ehorn makes the valuable “applicational and devotional implication” that Onesimus' return teaches that

Onesimus too was to act in a selfless manner when he returned to his master as a “new man” (cf. Eph 4:24). By this it may be seen that conversion was not an escape from the responsibilities of his past. What was wrong still needed to be set right (cf. vv 18–19). Nevertheless, Onesimus’ new status in Christ would shake the foundations of his former relationship with Philemon, perhaps allowing for the forging of a new one as “a beloved brother” (v 16). By his example, Paul demonstrated that one effective way to guide fellow Christians is by gentle shepherding rather than coercive commanding (Calvin, 396).

Again, on the meaning of v. 21, Ehorn says maybe Paul wanted Philemon to release Onesimus to do gospel ministry with Paul. Or maybe Paul wanted Philemon to manumit him. Ehorn explains the former option, is a bit dismissive of the perspicuity of the latter, and (non-)concludes, “Either way, Paul left the options open, expecting Philemon to discern the right decision for himself…”

Ehorn's own translation is sometimes unusual. For instance, in verse 23, we read “my fellow-prisoner in reference to Messiah Jesus.” This seems an odd rendering of ὁ συναιχμάλωτός μου ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. How “in reference to”? What does that even mean? Isn't “in Christ” a major Pauline theme? Ehorn doesn't really explain the phrase, except insofar as he debates whether the term “fellow-prisoner” is literal or metaphorical (—  here he is again noncommittal).

I did very much appreciate Ehorn's comment on the names in vv. 23-24:

“Epaphras, who is my fellow-prisoner in reference to Messiah Jesus, greets you. Likewise, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke my fellow-workers greet you.” Just as Paul opened the letter by including not only Philemon (v 1), but also Apphia, Archippus, and a church that met in Philemon’s house (v 2), so also Paul concluded the letter by including an epistolary entourage of no less than five people (vv 23–24). This confirms that the issue between Philemon and Onesimus is not just a private affair. Not only does the matter appear in a broader sphere of discourse, but the pressure is on, seeing as Paul had effectively “carbon copied” several others into the conversation.

So it's like using the “CC” function in an email, both spreading the mail, and alerting the primary addressee that others are reading it. Excellent observation. When I teach this, I'm sure I'll use that.

The book ends with a single excursus: “Christ, The Messiah In Theology And Translation.” You know how many times you and I have pointed out that “Christ” isn't Jesus' last name? It's a title? Not so fast, says Ehorn in effect; sometimes it does function as a name in the NT, and not a title.

As to OT use, Ehorn notes that

With the exception of Dan 9:25–26, the use of “Messiah” always referred to a present person, not a future one. Thus, the OT itself does not provide the impetus for expectation of an eschatological figure who would be designated “the Messiah.”

This argument is almost too precise to be helpful, overlooking the body of material pointing to an eschatological priest, king, prophet — all of which share the term “anointed.”

Ehorn concludes:

Although the consensus of scholarly opinion is that Χριστός had lost its titular significance within Paul’s letters, we have seen strong textual and historical reasons to see Paul’s use of Χριστός as not less than, but certainly more than titular.

In other words, Ehorn wants to translate it (sometimes!) as a proper name, not as a title. So he adds,

While translating the word Χριστός differently in context may present something of a problem to English sensibilities, particularly those who are used to hearing the word “Christ” in certain constructions, this is part and parcel of the task of understanding what ancient texts mean.

Accordingly, Ehorn works at coming up with a rationale for sometimes translating Χριστός as “Christ,” and sometimes translating it as “Messiah,” as the HCSB maddeningly does. So δέσμιος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ in vv. 1 and 9 is “prisoner of Messiah Jesus,” but ἀπὸ … κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ in v. 3 is “from…the Lord Jesus Christ.” Also: εἰς Χριστόν  in v. 6 is “for the sake of Messiah,” and vv, 8 and 20 ἐν Χριστῷ are “in Messiah.”

As with all the EEC volumes, Ehorn concludes by providing a list of foreign and technical words (such as anaphoric, conative, dittography, enclitic, hendiadys, inclusio, etc.), and extended bibliographies.

In sum: Ehorn has provided a good survey of the issues in the text, with commentary on those issues worth considering. He offers a number of helpful observations on the text, and is sensitive to its theology. The book is a good education on the current state of Philemon studies. That Ehorn views so much of the evidence as inconclusive earns my respect for Ehorn's humility and candor as a scholar, but prevents me from seeing the commentary as significantly ground-breaking in its own right.

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by Frank Turk
As many of you know, I am on hiatus, but being like that does not absolve one of his responsibilities to other people.  So for example, if a friend or an acquaintance to whom you own some small debt publishes a book while you are taking a long break from your world-famous blog, it seems right to come out of hiatus for a few minutes and give your friend a hand.  It wouldn't be a sin to do otherwise, but it would be a little thick.Some of you may know Alex from his previous book, Thriving at College. Born and raised in Chicago, IL, he earned a B.S. Degree at Alfred University in Ceramic Engineering and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Material Science & Engineering from U.C. Berkeley. He worked as an engineer for IBM for three years (1996-1999). From 2005-2007 he was an apprentice at The Bethlehem Institute (now Bethlehem College and Seminary), a masters-level theological training program overseen by Pastors John Piper and Tom Steller. During those years, Alex got his start in Christian higher education at Northwestern College. As of 2007, he’s been a professor of engineering and physics at California Baptist University.Back in 2011, I met Alex and tried to do a podcasted interview with him, but due to operator error in my equipment use, that never happened.  I dutifully posted a review of his previous book, and promised to help him with his next project as thanks for the time he spent (or wasted, as it might seem) with me at the Little Rock Airport.

This week, Alex is releasing his follow-up book Preparing your Teen for College. To read a thorough review and recommendation of this book, have a look at Bob Hayton's write-up as I think he covers more than enough ground to encourage you to buy this book if you have a teen who you are preparing for college.

However, I do have a few items about this book which you might also enjoy:

1. I really have no idea how the publishing industry decides on titles for books.  Actually, I do, and I hate it.  What Alex has written is a book on teen parenting — which takes a correctly-balanced view of academics in the whole picture of preparing a young person to launch into life — and they have wrapped it in cover which does two things: tries to leverage the franchise created by Alex's first successful book, and misleads you to think this books is really about college.  It's the second part which you ought to ignore because this book really isn't about college so much as it is about focusing on the right critical few items in parenting kids through teen years in our culture so that they will become faithful, useful adults when they leave your home.  There's a better book inside the cover than the title will lead you to believe.

2. It is rare for me to endorse a book over 400 pages which is not a reference book.  I'm endorsing this book in spite of its length.  Personally, I don't have a lot of use for a book which is too long to remember unless it is also worth filling with post-it tabs for reference in the future.  This book, which covers a lot of ground, will be one you'll want to read and mark up before your kids turn 12, refer back to as they turn 14 and 16, and then review and send off with them when they turn 18 and need to know the story behind all the things you expected from them.  To call this a reference book doesn't do it good service, but you will use it for reference after you read it the first time.

3. Alex doesn't need my endorsement. He has the likes of R.C Sproul, Doug Wilson, and Gene Veith endorsing this book. But he gets it because he's the real deal as a professor, a father, and a christian guy.

I'm a fan of Alex.  He would be a good life coach for you as a parent.

by Dan Phillips

(Logos Bible Software, 2013)

Logos' Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series continues to churn out worthwhile volumes. I reviewed the first volume by Gary Derickson first, then the commentary on James by Will Varner. Refer to the Derickson review to understand the aim and focus of this series. I continue to appreciate both the design of the series and the structure of each volume.

The author, A. Boyd Luter, is Adjunct Online Professor of New Testament at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. He has already written books on Ruth, Esther, preaching and other matters, as well as scholarly articles in periodicals such as BibSac and JETS.

Now to the part where I confess my weakness. Normally, when I review a commentary, I've already used some or many on that particular book. Not in this case. Song of Songs is a topic on which I'm not agnostic, but am unsettled. I could claim a position if you held a gun to a loved one's head, but once you eased off the trigger, I'd acknowledge others as having value, and admit indecision.

So I read this, my maiden voyage (if you'll pardon the minor pun) in the hopes that it would settle everything everything for me. Did it? Let's see.

Luter's tone is mature and reasonable throughout. He isn't in excited pursuit of any strange theory, and has no interest in bringing in readers with lurid discourses on erotic particulars. In fact if anything he's a bit (just a bit!) squeamish on the topic; that's all right, since others have clearly made up for that hesitance.

As to the topic of the Song, Luter says:

the overall movement of this ancient “love song” is from the early longings and expressions of affection of a young couple to their wedding day and night, then through the continuing growth of their relationship in the face of various problems that could easily derail their passionate love.

Very helpfully (and persuasively), Luter sees the book as composed of seven sections in chiastic structure. The first three and the last three frame the central section, which focuses on the wedding day and night. He also notes seven uses of the name “Solomon”: two at the beginning, two at the end, and three in the middle.
As to authorship and date, Luter provides a good section on dating by language, in which he issues an overdue challenge to the old evolutionary model of the development of the Heb language, suggesting that so-called “classical” and “colloquial” Hebrew, which included extensive use of Aramaisms, developed side-by-side.” He mounts an aggressive, positive case for Solomonic dating. He notes and responds to the various challenges to this position.
As to the opening words, Luter grants the wording could mean it was composed for or in the honor of Solomon, but then reminds that the goal of exegesis is finding the most likely meaning, not just possible meanings — and “the most natural meaning of 1:1 is certainly that Solomon is the author of the Song of Songs.”
If you're like me, the big issue to you is how Solomon is in any way qualified to write this book. A tome titled “On the Virtue of Selfless Truthfulness In All Things” and written by Bill Clinton would receive nothing but derision and mockery, and rightly so. How is this different? And anyway, what is the Song actually about? King Solomon and one woman? Other figures? Christ and the church? Yahweh and Israel? Celebrity bloggers and hit-count?
Luter faces the question (well, most of it) squarely and at some length, though frankly I wished the section was longer and dealt more fully with objections. Here's the core of his response on the issue of Solomon's fitness:

    At this point, consideration of one of Solomon’s more widely accepted compositions, Prov 1–9, will be helpful in two respects: 1) the wisdom laid out there for his son to follow (e.g., 1:8; 2:1; 3:1) was clearly not followed by Solomon’s son Rehoboam, whose behavior in 1 Kgs 12:1–17 reflects anything but the wisdom of the Book of Proverbs, and which likely is at least partly attributable to Solomon’s parenting; and 2) his own recorded wisdom in regard to the exclusivity of marriage in Prov 5:15–20 was followed only partially. There is no evidence that Solomon ever went after prostitutes (5:20), though he apparently married virtually any and all women he desired, whether for pleasure (1 Kgs 11:2) or political advantage (e.g., 3:1; 11:3–8).
The key point here is that it was not necessary for a biblical author to be an exemplary figure with regard to the subject matter of the book in question. Under the dynamics of divine inspiration stated and implied in 2 Pet 1:21, the Holy Spirit sovereignly chose particular biblical authors and guided what was said. Relevant examples are Peter, who denied Christ three times, and Paul, who described himself as “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man” (1 Tim 1:13). In addition, the Spirit chose David, the author of many of the psalms, in spite of his adultery and blood-guiltiness (2 Sam 11–12; Pss 32, 51).
The Lord chooses whom He will—sometimes irrespective of what many contemporary readers would consider to be major lifestyle blind spots—to accomplish what He wills. It appears He did exactly that with the flaws of character and practice of Solomon in his authoring of the Song of Songs.

Luter argues that the book was framed and written earlier in Solomon's life, during a possibly three-year coregency w/David, allowing for the freedom of movement the Song seems to reflect. Still, he thinks it unlikely that the Song depicts Solomon's first marriage.  There were at least two marriages during coregency. First-mentioned marriage, to Naamah the Ammonite, was probably political.
As to the purpose of the Song, the book

was intentionally crafted to portray God’s perspective on the romantic and sexual love between a man and woman. No other extended treatment of this subject, introduced as early in Scripture as the conclusion of the creation accounts (Gen 2:24–25) as a major aspect of man and woman coming together in marriage, is found elsewhere in the whole of Scripture. That is indeed a worthy purpose for the composition of the Song of Songs.

He notes that the “Interpretation of the Song of Songs is more varied than that of any other book in the biblical canon, other than possibly Revelation.” Indeed. Luter alludes to “very long history of fanciful allegorical and blushing typological approaches,” then discusses “The five major interpretive approaches to the Song of Songs,” which “are the allegorical, typological, dramatic, cultic, and literal/natural.” Each is explained, documented, discussed in turn. He concludes in favor of a consistently literal/natural approach. The book has many echoes of Gen 2–3 in the Song of Songs, as well important aspects of Gen 1 and Gen 4, and part of Gen 3 before the curse in 3:16, which he says have not received significant relevant discussion to this point.

Back to structure, Luter's most persuaded by a “grand chiasm” adapted from David Dorsey:
    A (1:1–2:7) Opening words of mutual love and desire
         B (2:8–17) The young man’s invitation to join him in the countryside
         C (3:1–5) The young woman’s first nighttime search for the young man
             D (3:6–5:1) Their wedding day and night
         C′ (5:2–7:11 [ET 7:10]) The young woman’s second nighttime search for the young man
         B′ (7:12 [ET 7:11]–8:4) The young woman’s invitation to join her in the countryside
    A′ (8:5–14) Closing words of mutual love and desire
In addition to this chiastic structure of seven sections, each structure itself is internally chiastic. (Jim Hamilton will love this book!)
On theology of love in the book:

the overarching theological focus of the Song is love and desire that has these characteristics: it is headed toward marriage (1:2–3:5), it involves making a very public commitment and having a very private consummation (3:6–5:1), and it includes working through the “growing pains” of a marriage relationship—including “baggage” brought into the marriage and tensions which develop within the marital bond (5:2–8:14).
The theology of the Song of Songs sets forth a marriage-related love. Also, it is important to observe that the Song does so while honestly depicting the full bloom of youthful infatuation (Song 1–2), against the dark backdrop of the selfishness (5:2–4) and disappointment (5:5–8) of “real life,” life worked out against the shadowy unavoidable prospect of death (8:6)—in other words, love in a fallen world!

On that, a further and very interesting note:

    At this point, a careful consideration of Song 6:8–9 serves to reinforce and expand that general point. There, the contrast that is drawn between “the one” (the Shulammite) and the women (queens/concubines/young women) “without number”111 may well have affinities to another part of Gen 1–3. If Genesis 2:24–25 is almost certainly antecedent “marriage theology” for the Song of Songs, what about the immediately preceding verses: Gen 2:18–23? Is it stretching things to hear an echo of Adam going through the process of moving from his aloneness (2:18) to being introduced to his exact counterpart (2:21–23), against the backdrop of the differentiation that came from naming all the animals (2:19–20), in Solomon proclaiming the Shulammite—whom he may have given the name of his exact counterpart (Song 7:1) for the purpose of the Song—as “the one” (6:9) against the backdrop of women “without number” (6:8)? If nothing else, in both cases Adam and Solomon went through a process to come to their points of insight and appreciation for the counterparts Yahweh provided them.

I give the lion's share of this review to those general features since I consider them most important, and I think readers will agree. I also learned a lot of interesting particulars; for instance, I hadn't noticed a feature of the names “Solomon” and “Shulamith”:

Solomon and Shulamith, likely the male and female versions of the same name, may echo “man” and “woman” in Gen 2:23 as being perhaps as close to the ideal human couple that there have been since the fall in the poetic depiction of the Song of Songs.

His commentary is detailed and frequently studded with references to the literature and to modern writers. I often wished, nonetheless, for more. For instance, on 8:6, which he renders as “a flame of Yahweh,” this is his comment in a footnote:

It remains lexically unclear whether the ending of שַׁלְהֶ֥בֶתְיָֽה (i.e., -yah) should be understood as an intensive (“most powerful flame”) or as “a superlative formed with the divine name” (“flame of Yah” [Estes, 407]).

Yet he doesn't really discuss or defend his translation very much beyond that.
I felt this a few times, as in his interpretations of 8:4 and 9 and elsewhere, where he doesn't fully explain or defend his view (to my mind). But that is not at all the rule, as Luter often notes and comments on points of syntax and lexicography, even relating to geography, as well as flora and fauna of the time.


The book is full of helpful tables and charts. Also, I noted the fewest typos of any EEC volume I've read so far, so something is improving in the editorial process!
In his final words of commentary, Luter gives what he thinks the book is about:

    This is how the Song of Songs ends: from 8:6–7 forward, the closing section paints a picture of silence where commitment needed to be by the man (8:6–7). This created an emotional and spiritual vacuum that was filled by the growing perception of domination (8:11–12) and distanced disenchantment (8:10, 13) on the part of the woman. In spite of all this, the desire for each other they both had exhibited through the book continued to the end (8:14).
There it is: a struggle of domination and desire. In the end, the picture of the tension between wives and husbands portrayed in Gen 3:16 goes on, because the ongoing theological reality is that their mutual love must be played out in a fallen world.

CONCLUSION: do I recommend the commentary? Yes. Will I use it if I ever teach the book? Absolutely, it will be a first point of reference. Did it answer all my questions satisfactorily. No. But it made a great contribution towards an eventual conclusion.

AFTERWORD: I accidentally mis-typed the title at one point as “Song of Snogs.” British readers would have had a merry time over that.

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by Dan Phillips

(Logos Bible Software, 2012)

This book is another addition to Logos' growing Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series. I reviewed the first volume by Gary Derickson previously, and will refer you thither to come up to speed about the aim and focus of this series. I really think EEC has tremendous promise, and love the facets of the books' layout for each section:
  • Introduction
  • Outline
  • Original Text
  • Textual Notes
  • Translation
  • Commentary
  • Biblical Theology Comments
  • Application and Devotional Implications
This is a genius design. All those strengths are present in this volume by Varner, minus Derickson's lamentable weakness for Hodges' gutless-grace views.
That author, William Varner, is a professor of Bible and Greek at The Master’s College, guides tours in Israel, has authored a number of books, and pastors the Sojourners Fellowship at Grace Community Church. He's written before on James, on the Psalms, and on Jesus as Messiah. Here Varner incorporates some of his earlier material on James in a full-orbed commentary.
The book opens eye-catchingly:

After four hundred years of languishing in a backwater of neglect that was largely influenced by the opinions of two German “Martins,” the Letter of James is finally emerging into the light of serious scholarly attention.

The two “Martins” are Luther and Dibelius. Varner himself thoroughly engages the literature on James, old and new, as witnessed by 852 footnotes. Given the wealth of writing on James, though — including thirty significant commentaries in the past 40 years — why another? Varner answers:

‎Some may wonder if there is anything more that needs to be said about James. I can only say that there will always be a need for good commentaries on a biblical text, because “God yet has light to spring forth from His word” (attributed to a Pilgrim pastor). Furthermore, the application of fresh linguistic methods to exegetical analysis demands an occasional fresh look at familiar biblical passages.

One of the specifics I found most interesting and educational was Varner's emphasis on James' prominence in the early church. Before reading him, asked who the prominent leaders were, I would have answered “Peter and Paul.” But Varner asserts that research on James “has led to a new perspective on James the leader and also on James the letter. There is still a need for a fresh reading of the James materials, and to that end results of my own fresh reading are offered.”

For instance, Varner notes that

‎A careful reading of Luke’s account in Acts and Paul’s comments in Galatians fully supports the idea that James was not merely a significant leader in the early church and not just the leader of the Jerusalem church, but that he was the leader of the church. The implications of this fact are significant not only for the Roman Catholic attitude toward Peter, but also for the Protestant evangelical attitude toward Paul.

Ironically, Varner observes that it was a chapter written by still another “German Martin” (Hengel) that first raised the possibility of a new perspective on James.‎

So what is the “new perspective on James”?

The argument is that after the Pentecostal effusion James rose quickly to a parity of leadership with the traditional apostles and by the early forties was the leader, although as a primus inter pares (“first among equals”), not only of the Jerusalem church (a point usually recognized) but of the entire Jesus movement. If a stranger arrived in Jerusalem or in Antioch between the years A.D. 40–62 and asked, “Who is the person in charge of this movement?” any knowledgeable Christian, including Peter or John or Paul, would have answered without hesitation, “James.”

Vaerner also points out neglected indications of James' priority, such as the fact that apart from alluding to “the tribe of Christians” in the Flavian Testimony about Christ, James is the only NT church figure Josephus mentions.

Varner sees James as “‎probably the first NT document written and the first Christian writing of any kind,” written about 46-48. He has a good section on literary connections with the OT, notes the absence of allusion to cultic elements, and notes the frequent resorting to Lev. 19 connected with Christian specifics, ‎which “suggests the function of James as a sort of halakhic midrash (“commentary”) on Leviticus 19.” He also includes a solid survey of James' relationship to 2nd Temple literature.

A judicious section on James' theology counters Dibelius' assertion that James “has no theology,” as well as criticisms of un-Christian/Christless orientation. I was helped by Varner's observation that “allusions to the oral teaching of Jesus are so abundant that it is not going beyond the evidence to call James the most Jesus-soaked book in the NT after the Gospels” (emphasis added).

Further on that subject, Varner discusses standards of identification, and says that

‎When we realize…the thorough way in which Jesus’ teachings permeate the writing, we could conclude that, after the Gospels, James is the most Jesus-centered book in the NT canon. While Paul theologizes about Jesus, he displays a measured interest in the teachings of Jesus (Acts 20:30). However, almost every point that James makes is grounded in or illustrated by an adapted saying or aphorism that echoes in some way a logion of his brother.

He shows by a table how “‎the teaching of Jesus in some way influences every paragraph of the book.” Later, in the commentary, this perspective often “pays off,” as in his treatment of 2:5. Varner uses this as an occasion to delve into reflections of Jesus' words in James, probing “layers at which many commentators cease exploring.” For instance he sees this verse as echoing Matt 5:3//Lk 6:20b, and says “‎It is more than a chance similarity because both Jesus and James mention the poor as recipients and heirs of the kingdom.”

How does Varner deal with the perceived clash between James and Paul? He laments, “Rarely has reading James apart from its being a foil for Pauline theology ever really taken place.” He also says, very pointedly: “If either Paul or James is opposing the other, neither has done a very good job, because neither addresses the central point of the other’s argument.” Specifically, James' “concern is not ‘Should a person have faith?' but rather ‘When is faith dead and when is it alive?'”

As Varner later observes:

James and Paul are not opponents facing each other with swords drawn. They are standing with their backs to each other, each drawing swords as they face a different opponent.

Aside: a helpful feature of this book is a list of foreign and technical words. Oddly, however, in discussing James' literary type, Varner uses the uncommon word “protreptic” and doesn't define it or list it later appendix.

In his commentary, Varner shows that he is a very attentive reader of James, frequently featuring judicious observations on James' use of word linkage, catchwords, and alliteration, as well as employment of discourse analysis. And though very scholarly, Varner writes with a pastoral eye. Note his comment on 1:2 —

‎The salutation of 1:1 might sound like a mockery to those who were suffering under various trials, but James proceeds to show that these very trials are grounds for joy. For this thought, see also Matthew 5:10–15 and 1 Peter 4:12–14, where the teaching is that suffering is not strange or foreign to the Christian life, but is a part of the training for glory. Therefore, χαίρετε [rejoice]! The idea is exemplified by the disciples in Acts 5:41: “… rejoicing (χαίροντες) that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for the name.” “Joy is the proper perspective for the test of faith: ‘consider it sheer joy.’ This joy, however, is not the detachment of the Greek philosopher (4 Macc 9–11), but the eschatological joy of those expecting the intervention of God in the end of the age (Jud. 8:25)” (Davids, 67–68).

Every word and every turn of James' syntax receives thorough analysis and documentation. Varner's style of writing is solid and broadly accessible. Sometimes, it's just plain fun. For instance, after a very technical exegesis of 1:5-8, in the Biblical Theology Comments Varner refers to “‎Mr. Facing Both Ways” from Pilgrim's Progress. Also, Varner calls the χρυσοδακτύλιος of 2:3 “Mr. ‘Goldfinger'”! And how many other technical, exegetical commentaries on James will reference Cool Hand Luke, as Varner later does?

One interpretive quibble I might voice is on 1:5-8, where I would have liked to see Varner more explicitly counter the (mis-)reader who would take this as a prescription for mysticism. (My own attempt to do this can be found in God's Wisdom in Proverbs, 107-126.)

Despite the thoroughness of the volume, I might have wished for more, here and there. For instance, still with the stench of Hodges' influence over the commentary on the Johannine epistles, on 2:26 I would have liked to see Varner interact with the pernicious idea that the faith being dead means that this faith was once alive, so it's really saving faith, just not robust in-fellowship faith. You know, it isn't really really dead, it's just restin', just pinin' for the Fjords. Yuck. Varner clearly does not hold that view but, as I say, I'd have liked to see specific engagement and annihilation.

I would have liked more comment on the grammatical force of the aorist passive imperative in 4:10 (ταπεινώθητε — get yourselves humbled?). How do I actively obey the command to receive an action? However, in the Biblical Theology comment section Varner does say:

To “humble ourselves before the Lord” means to recognize our own spiritual poverty, to acknowledge consequently our desperate need of God’s help, and to submit to His commanding will for our lives. As was already mentioned, this humility is exemplified in the tax-collector of Jesus’ parable, who because of the consciousness of his own sin, called out to God for mercy. In response, Jesus pronounces him justified, and declares: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). This saying was echoed later in 2 Corinthians 11:7 and 1 Peter 5:6 and becomes part and parcel of the rich series of paradoxes which convey the true nature of the Christian life (e.g., the last shall be first; the slave will be truly free; to die is to live; to be humbled is to be exalted—see the homiletical suggestions below).

Also, I was a little surprised not to read any comment per se on the unusual words ἡ εὐχὴ or τὸν κάμνοντα in the commentary on James 5:15.

If these are even seen as issues, they are minor. The beauty of the EEC series is that Varner easily might expand any of these with ease in future editions. In the course of reading, I found a host of typos, as I had with Derickson, again making me wonder about the thoroughness of the editorial process; but these were submitted to Logos and were or are being corrected — something impossible in hard-copy volumes.

I recommend Varner's commentary on James. Any evangelical pastor who wants to preach or teach on James must have Varner. Happily for you, there's time to get it for your pastor for Christmas! I appreciate Logos providing it to me for my impartial review, and happy to make a hearty recommendation.

Also: I just learned that this volume will be the inaugural volume of the EEC series to be printed as a hard copy.

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by Dan Phillips

The Masculine Mandate, by Richard D. Phillips
(Harrisonburg: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2010; 174 pages)

As I began teaching a 30-week course on marriage and the Bible, it was with some apprehension.

Any reader could pitch a number of accurate guesses as to reasons for that feeling, but the specific niggle was this: what is Biblical manhood — specifically, malehood? How do you textually ground and express the specific difference between God's intent in creating male human beings?

I had read a number of books and articles, and they hadn't helped much. Most of them simply gave popular opinions — popular evangelicaloid opinions — without much bothering to ground them directly in Scripture. Others were some fun, but in the final analysis just nuts. One had a lot of Bible — but it was almost all irrelevant. For instance, it went on and on about what Genesis 1:26-28 teaches us about being a man. The problem? Just read it. “Male and female.” Oopsie. Is that the best we can do?

Then came this book by Richard Phillips (no relation, except in Christ), and it flicked the switch for me.

In a very solid, very readable, very Biblical, very theological, very engaging, and very practical way, Phillips leads us to Genesis 2 which, after all, is the narrative of the creation of the first male, in distinction from the creation of the first female. Phillips focuses on and develops Genesis 2:7, 8, and 15. Man's distinctive, pre-Eve task: to work and to keep the garden (8). These are expressed in service and leadership (9).

Phillips develops work as meaning “to cultivate as a gardener” (12ff.), and keep as “to protect as a sword-bearer” (14ff.). He then unfolds these ideas in the categories of man's calling to work (17ff.), man as the image of God (31ff.), and man as shepherd-lord (43ff.). These all focus on the conceptual aspect, getting the ideas Scripturally validated and illustrated.

Then Phillips turns to the practical application, with three chapters on marriage, two on training children, and one each on men in friendship, in the church, and as servants of the Lord.

This was one of those books that just turned on the floodlights for me. I took Phillips' basic idea, and went at the text hammer and tongs. I found in the Hebrew text and context even more clues, verification, and opening of the ideas, thanks to the fundamental pointer Phillips had given me. From what I found, I could probably write another book complementary (see what I did there?) to Phillips' My development of these ideas particularly began with session 23, and went on for several additional studies.

At the end comes a section of questions for reflection and discussion, making the book usable for group-studies; as well as indices of Scripture, subjects, and names. Unfortunately, endnotes also come at the back of the book, a reall bad decision on the publisher's part that is a disservice both to author and reader.

This is just a really terrific book. I don't for the life of me know why it isn't better-known and more widely-discussed. Instead of Driscoll, big Gospel sites ought to be promoting Phillips. I don't know another book that does what Richard Phillips does here at all, let alone so well.

I recommend it to everyone: boys/men/husbands/fathers/pastors, for obvious reasons; girls/single ladies to know what to look for in a man; moms to know how to raise their boys.

Get, read, review, recommend.

UPDATE: I just got word that the book will be on sale for $5 this Friday, November 29, via Ligonier's Black Friday sale.

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by Dan Phillips

(Sanford: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2013; 145 pages)

My dear wife picked this up at the Strange Fire conference by signing up (for something) with Ligonier, so I read it on my journey home. It isn't that I live in Australia, though the Denver layover was a bit long, it's that this book is that quick and lively of a read.

It is the latest in a series of books edited by Lawson collectively titled “The Long Line of Godly Men profiles.” Previous volumes treat of CalvinEdwardsSpurgeon, and Knox. All but the last are by Lawson; Douglas Bond writes about Knox.

This book consists of six brisk, engaging chapters approaching the legacy of Luther as a preacher from various angles. Lawson writes as he speaks, with energy and urgency. The reader is fairly carried along by a delightful marriage of lively prose and thorough, scholarly documentation. Listening to Lawson in the past, I didn't appreciate the extent of his research into his subjects; I do now.

Even the preface is solid, undergirded by nineteen footnotes endnotes. It issues a “Call for a New Reformation,” in which Lawson links the power of Luther's (and other Reformers') preaching to the causes of the great reformation of the sixteenth century. He says the Reformation was a revival of preaching (xvii), of biblical preaching (xviii), of controversial preaching (xix), and of preaching on the doctrines of grace (xx). It's a bracing lead-in to the body of the text, whose first chapter covers Luther's life and legacy. It is an overview Luther's life and ministry, traced from birth to death. The center to which Lawson keeps referring, though, is Luther as preacher — factors that played into the centrality of proclamation in Luther's ministry.

This chapter showcases one of the strengths of the volume. Lawson interlaces his narrative with constant quotations from Luther himself. Better still — and unlike the fun-to-read but exasperating Warren Wiersbe — every quotation is documented. One comes away not simply with Luther as seen by Lawson or even Luther scholars (though they're all there, in the footnotes endnotes), but with Luther in his own words.

Chapter two treats of Luther's deep conviction about the Word: “The pulpit is the throne for the Word of God” (26). Luther laments the neglect of the Word, writing in prose that is unpleasantly timely:

God's Word has been silenced, and only reading and singing remain in the churches. This is the worst abuse…. A host of unchristian fables and lies, in legends, hymns, and sermons were introduced that it is horrible to see…. A Christian congregation should never gather together without the preaching of God's Word and prayer, no matter how briefly, as Psalm 102 says, “When the kings and the people assemble to serve the Lord, they shall declare the name and the praise of God.” (27)

Lawson traces out five core commitments in Luther's attitude towards the Word: verbal inspiration, divine inerrancy, supreme authority, intrinsic clarity, and complete sufficiency. Citing Sproul, Lawson argues that the central issue of the Reformation was the issue of authority; it was a crisis about the Word (40-41).

Chapter three deals with Luther in his study, again detailing five ways “in which [Luther's] study for his preaching stood out” (45ff.). He stresses the reading of Scripture, and the importance of a mastery of the Bible's original languages. Chapter four deals with Luther's commitment to the text he is about to expound, illustrating how Luther used a brief introduction to dive right into the passage itself. Lawson notes that Luther “believed that the preacher must advance to his text as soon as possible and, once there, remain there” (67).

Chapter five focuses on Luther's passion in preaching, this time elucidating four feathers of his exposition (indomitable spirit, fervent intensity, accessible speech, and colorful expressions). As with every turn, Lawson illustrates from Luther's own sermons. One arresting example is Luther's vivid preaching on the sacrifice of Isaac (95). Chapter six's theme is Luther's fearless declaration of the truth. Here again five aspects come to the fore, including Luther's conviction that we mustn't keep back some Scriptural truths as being unfit for Christian ears (!; 102ff.).

Lawson concludes with a plea for more who show Luther's boldness and Biblical/Gospel/Christ-centered emphasis in preaching. And that is the purpose of the book, a positive intent to plead for more bold preaching. For that reason, I take it, Lawson doesn't deal with Luther's squirreliness about James, or his execrable and universally rejected words about the Jews.

I recommend the book to any pastor; it's a great read.

My only real complaint is that the publisher has served both Lawson and us very poorly by relegating all of Lawson's careful documentation to endnotes. As always, this is a gratuitous pity and an insult both to author and reader. The practice neither honors Lawson's diligent scholarship nor serves his readers' convenient profit. It is a baffling holdover. We are no longer in the day when footnoting drove up costs due to the issues of typesetting. Footnoting inconveniences no one (don't like 'em? don't read 'em), endnotes inconvenience anyone interested in documentation (two bookmarks, back and forth, back and forth).

I hope there will be future volumes in the series, and that the publisher will elect to serve Lawson and us better in terms of layout.

Aside to authors: Love your readers. For their sake, insist that your publisher use footnotes, not endnotes.

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