Sunday, February 18, 2018

Great Survey of Paul's Letters to the Churches

Color me nerdy, but I read this book for leisure reading. I happened to be in the office of a pastor friend, and the subject of Paul came up. He pulled this book off the shelf, and asked if I would like to read it. I’m glad he offered, and more than glad that I said yes!
            John B Polhill, when this book was published, was a professor of New Testament at a well-known theological seminary.  It’s obvious that he knows his stuff. Paul and His Letters (B&H Academic, 1999) is not the definitive “everything you always wanted to know about Paul” book. Nor was it intended to be. In his introduction, the author writes, “The purpose of this book is to provide a survey of all the information we have on the life and thought of the apostle Paul—from Acts, from his epistles and from seemingly reliable traditions that have been preserved in the non-canonical sources”. 

              Despite the introductory disclaimer that this book is “Not a ‘Life of Paul’”, Polhill does include some biographical material about the writer of much of the New Testament.  As we remember Paul as the one who, more than others, helps us to understand Christian Theology, it’s important to remember that as a Pharisee he was also familiar with Jewish theology of the time. Polhill helps the reader understand where Paul started, and how, over time, his understanding of the teachings of Jesus developed to the point where he recorded them in the form of these letters to the various churches that he had helped establish, or, in the case of the church at Rome, where he had some knowledge and a connection of some type.
              One of the things that I particularly enjoyed about this book is the way that Polhill examines each of the Pauline epistles in the context of Paul’s missionary journeys. Again, we have to remind ourselves that entire volumes, exploring every nuance of every word, have been written about each of the epistles. In this survey, there is a mere chapter covering each letter. Highlights of each letter are addressed, along with some of the criticisms and arguments—for and against—some of the interpretations of certain passages.  There is also a teaching outline included for each of the letters.

    In my opinion, one of the many purposes for a survey of this type is to expose the readers to ideas, questions, areas, of consensus, as well as controversies, and to encourage further study. Polhill does his readers a great service by including at the end of each chapter, a list of ‘suggested further reading’ or ‘selected commentaries’.

   Beyond the use of this as a text book in Bible Colleges or Theological Seminaries, I think this book would be a handy reference tool for pastors who are preaching from any of Paul’s letters, and Sunday School teachers and Small Group leaders should be advised to review Polhill’s “Study Outline” and highlights of each epistle as they prepare to lead the discussions.

A solid A+


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A handy reference guide

As a Seminary student, and as a Pastor, I have read several “theology” books, including those by Elwell, Grenz, and Grudem, that are listed in Gegg R. Allison’s resource list. I learned a lot from them, but there is no way that I could ever suggest that the reading was pleasant. Allison’s book 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith: A Guide to Understanding and Teaching Theology (Baker Books, 2018) may not dig as deeply into the various parts of a Christian Theology as the aforementioned resources, but this book is certainly easier to read.

                Any Systematic Theology addresses several doctrines, and this is no exception. Allison walks the reader through the doctrines of: Word of God, God, God's Creatures, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Salvation, Church, and Future things. Each section addresses different parts of the doctrine, and is broken down into a simple to understand format. For example, the first section under the Doctrine of the Word of God, “The Inspiration of Scripture” includes a summary, a listing of the main themes, and a list of key scriptures pertaining to the topic. Then in the section called ‘Understanding the Doctrine’, the author addresses major affirmations, biblical support, and major errors. Allison also has a section labeled ‘Enacting the Doctrine’, followed by what is probably the main purpose of the book, ‘Teaching the Doctrine’.  This last section includes a ‘teaching outline’, very helpful for the Sunday school teacher, or a pastor who likes handy references on his bookshelf, rather than having to dig through the wordy volumes of most Theology texts.
                This book is definitely more ‘entry level’ study rather than Graduate study material, but it does serve as a handy reference, for those quick questions, or to help find the scripture references in a hurry.
                I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

An Understandable Approach to Jesus' Farewell Discourse

Everything you ever wanted to know about the coming of the Holy Spirit, and then some. Well not quite, but Don Carson, in this book covering a few chapters of the Gospel of John, does a good job of eliminating some of the confusion. As Carson writes in the preface, this book is meant for the ‘church at large’ rather than academia. And for that we owe him a heartfelt thank you.  As part of a Doctoral program, I’ve read other books by Carson, and there is definitely a difference between academic and the general public. I’m glad that he has recognized the difference
Reading through the gospels is never an easy job, and for many lay people, the Gospel of John, with its emphasis on the deity of God, is slightly more difficult than the accounts of Jesus' life and ministry as narrated in the Gospels off Matthew, Mark, and Luke. If you are one of those who want to understand the Fourth Gospel, but find yourself struggling, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Evangelical Exposition of John 14-17 (Baker Books, 1980, repackaged edition 2018) may be the book you’ve been looking for. Almost 40 years later the writing is still fresh, and the questions posed are still troubling people in the pews. And of course, the answers are still relevant.
The Disciples were confused, as many of us still are, at Jesus’ words in these few pages, and Carson does an admirable job of pointing out a number of issues that cause that confusion, as well as some of the opposing arguments. I’m going- you can’t come, but then I’ll be back for you. You won’t see me, then you will see me.  I’m praying for me, for you, and all those who will come later. Yes there’s a lot with which to wrestle.
I see a sermon series in the near future, and the folks in our weekly Bible study group are going to be blessed with this approach to the Fourth Gospel.
Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.