Review of @KregelAcademic’s “Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook”

If I were to survey the current state of hermeneutical exegesis, I would get the strong sense of a blathering mess of chaotic interpretation fostered upon Holy Writ by people who simple have no idea what they are doing. Perhaps I would then seek to find ways of helping them to bring order to chaos and engineer something of a return to sound dogmatic portrayals of Scripture. To assist me, I would need to turn to easy-to-understand books appealing to both the trained and untrained. I believe Herbert W. Bateman’s book, Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook, is easily one of the volumes I would use.

Un/fortunately, there is little in the way of telling the reader why this book should be used so I’ll fill in the gaps. There is a constant urge among us proudly post-modern members of our species to interpret everything according to our own experiences. This has led to an increase in biblical illiteracy and a terrible mess of practical theology. Thus, we need books that will train us to think biblically — in the sense that our interpretative strategies should be rooted in what lays before us rather than what we see. Further, unlike other books that give a broad stroke approach to biblical exegesis, this book (and this series) breaks down the various components of the New Testament and focuses on them. Thus, you will get a focused approach, and extended examples, to interpreting Scripture according to standard practices.

Interpreting the General Letters is divided into 8 chapters. Let me further offer a division of these chapters. The first three chapters provides the basic setting of the letters, including genre (ch 1), context (2), and theology (3). Chapters 4 and 5 deal with the working out of interpretation. It is a pleasant surprise to see that step one (in chapter 4) is actually creating a translation and attempts to help the reader avoid common pitfalls. Only then can the reader move into English translations. The final portion of the book, chapters 6 and 7, deal more with extending what you have done in chapter 5 to a general audience, such as preaching. Communication (ch 6) and Exposition (ch 7) not only carry your work off the page, but puts it into a realm where it will be challenged, and hopefully, where it will challenge others. Finally, chapter 8 serves almost like a substantial appendix where the author gives sources for everything discussed in the book — sources that will propel the reader, and exegete, to better exegesis. A very helpful chart is given on commentary selection, although the use of “liberal” in describing some of them (Hermeneia) seems a bit pejorative.

When I went to seminary, one of the books we were required to purchase was one on general biblical exegesis. You probably know it. It was helpful in many ways, but having a book like Bateman’s helps to really focus the skills we are trying build. While Bateman may easily reveal his hermeneutic tendencies (hint, read the Preface), I do not see any such restrictions placed upon his readers.In fact, I believe his work will give great freedom, within proper boundaries, to those earnestly attempting to read and communicate the Sacred Text.

Review of @KregelBook’s “Zombie Church, Breathing Life Back into the Body of Christ” (Fritzsche)

Be sure to check out Zombie Church on Kregel’s website.

Zombie Church, at first glance seems to be nothing more than the same tired observations presented in a way that might appeal to those who enjoy horror (a bonus!) or an old complaint presented in a more socially relevant manner. To dismiss the book as only that is to do a great disservice to Tyler Edwards, but also, and most importantly to yourself. While it is true that he observes of the struggles the church currently faces, the true joy of the book is in the solutions he offers.

While reading the book you cannot help but be slowly convicted of many of the behaviors that are listed. This is incredibly useful as knowledge of said behaviors brings about the ability to change them. The admittance of the author of being guilty, in the past, of many of the behaviors is both refreshingly honest and encouraging as well. The problems are honestly and fairly pointed out, but the true joy of the book is in the solutions that are offered.

zombie church

Many works have been published about the problems the church faces and the solutions that must be employed, but Zombie Church is the first that I have read that actually points out the only solution that can work.  The problems of the church may be institutional, but the solutions are individual. Zombie Church gets to the root of the problem that it is not only action that matters, but the motivation of that action. It is not only faith that makes a church alive and vibrant, it is the love that accompanies it. As Tyler points out, “Without love, service means nothing. Without love, faith means nothing.” As the book points out well, if the church is a zombie, then the solution is that it’s people must experience resurrection.

Part of the enjoyment of reading Zombie Church is that it is full of good one-liners. In a sound bite culture, the truth is that we need these one-liners to stick with us and solidify the meaning of what we are reading. Observations like, “God’s call is not to enslave you with laws and regulations, but to send you out like an arsonist to a flammable world,” cannot help but stick in the back of your mind and constantly remind you of what the mission is. Observations like, “passion has been replaced with cowardice and reason,” cannot help but ring true and spur you forward toward a better future for the church. Truths like, “The darkness that we see is not an indication of the strength of our enemy; it is a result of our own inaction,” lovingly convict us not toward oppressing guilt, but to better action and behavior for the sake of the church that we love.  Statements like, “The church is ever, only, always about Jesus,” challenge us to be the same. The church is not a decaying corpse, but she is sick with a disease. Zombie church reminds and encourages us that we, as individuals, can be the cure.

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in the (e)mail from @KregelAcademic, Interpreting the General Letters An Exegetical Handbook (Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis)

Thanks to Sarah for sending this along… even if I had missed the sign-up deadline. From Kregel,

This handbook is designed as a step-by-step approach for analyzing and communicating eight letters of the New Testament: Hebrews, James, the Petrine Letters, the Johannine Letters, and Jude. Interpreting the General Letters provides important background material for these books’ interpretation by exploring the types and component parts of letter writing, the importance of an amanuensis; the historical background of the Greco-Roman world, and implications of each of these factors for interpreting the general letters.

This foundation is followed by a discussion of the theology of the general letters. Specific consideration is given to the era of promise in Hebrew Scriptures, the era of fulfillment as underscored in the general letters, and how the theology of each letter contributes to the overall canon of Scripture.

Finally, Bateman provides nine steps that move from interpretation to communication: three steps for preparing to interpret the letters, three for interpreting, and finally three for communicating the letters. All explanations include examples in order to develop a student’s or pastor’s skills for accurate interpretation and convicting communication of God’s Word.

In the (e)Mail from @KregelBooks: Zombie Church

From Kregel,

There are Zombies among us

Liars. Hypocrites. Men, women, and children who attend church because it’s what they are supposed to do. Just going through the motions. These are the undead–people who are disconnected from the Spirit of God–who are spreading a virus of passivity, or worse. No one is completely immune.

Zombies can live. But they will have to fight. Fight for their lives.

zombie churchIn this challenging, culturally relevant book, Tyler Edwards spotlights the very real but often ignored lackluster attitude of today’s believers. An attitude that can infect an entire church. Using examples from popular zombie movies, Edwards will help you recognize the symptoms and show what you can do to awaken the undead. Your mission is to take life to a dying world by demonstrating what it means to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30 niv).

The bride of Christ isn’t dead. But she is terribly sick. Zombie Church offers the keys to survival.

Tyler Edwards graduated from Ozark Christian College in Missouri and is now the senior pastor at Cornerstone Christian Church. He speaks at various campus ministry events and has served overseas. This is his first book.

Expect a review soon…

Book Notice – @KregelAcademic’s “Seeking the City: Wealth, Poverty, and Political Economy in Christian Perspective”

This is huge book – 900+ pages. It does look interesting, however… You can see the table of contents and read a chapter, here. See it on the Kregel Academic page as well.

A biblical, historical, and practical examination of wealth and social justice

People of faith have always been in search of a homeland—from God’s first calling-out of Abraham to the Pilgrims who came to America to establish the “city upon a hill”. Fundamental to this quest for a just, holy civilization—and one of the critical questions facing us today—has been the progress of humankind on the earth When has human progress served the vision of “seeking the [heavenly] city which is to come” (Hebrews 13:14) and God’s mandate for humanity to fill and rule over the earth? And in what ways has progress undermined that vision?

In Seeking the City, Chad Brand and Tom Pratt sketch out a biblical vision for how God providentially works throughout history as well as through society’s structures of politics and economy to cause His kingdom, the City of God, to come on earth. Complicating the pursuit of the ideal city is the fact that the ability to make a living is threatened and new pressures to conform to the rising world system will mount as Jesus has warned us. This book will help Christians to understand the times through the trifocal lens of the Bible, history, and theology and then to respond with wisdom to the many pressing issues of the day, including work, wealth, the size of government, taxation, welfare, the environment, and social justice.

I follow Chad on Twitter. He and I are known to disagree pretty heartily over certain issues, but he seems like a solid guy. He is wrong, of course, on that particular issue, but… (I don’t know what it is like to be wrong)

If you get a chance, check out this book.

Review of @kregelacademic’s Minding the Heart

Be sure to check out the Kregel Academic product page!

Lately, I’ve become aware of certain scientific studies related to what Christianity has usually called “the inner man.” I will update that and say “the inner person.” Several studies indicate meditation, prayer, and other forms of reflective exercises may actually alter the brain in such a way as to produce noticeable and positive results. Such a concept is found in Scripture regarding what it has called “the heart.” In reading Robert Saucy’s book, Minding the Heart, I have found a sincere scholar and theology who knows something of these studies attempting to draw the correlation. His goal is simple, to present a solid and scriptural method to spiritual formation of the “fallen heart.” (14)

The most surprising part of this book is the lack of expected evangelical cliches. Saucy is a distinguished professor at Biola University, a noted evangelical school, so I expected the usual round of condemnation and basest explanation of what a life in Christ is about. I admit I was wrong, and more, astonished when I read “(t)he message of Scripture is that our life in Christ is more than forgiveness of sins, more than escape from God’s condemnation, but a new way to live, a new source of zest that thirsts and hungers for more.” (18) Indeed, a life in Christ is more about experience than what many like to acknowledge, but the experience of Christianity is essential to being a Christian. Further, his continued reference to the journey (rather than a momentary event) of the Christian must make every Wesleyan-heart warmed. With such a solid foundation laid, and my mind open to Saucy’s goal, the rest of the book really begins to take hold.

The book is divided between fourteen chapters with an introduction and a conclusion as bookends. A nice addition to this work is an index of sidebars, something Saucy uses throughout the book to highlight biblical stories and other images related to the material he is discussing. For instance, in one he discusses the Lectio Divina while in another he discusses the fear of the Lord. His chapters cover topics such as defining the word “heart” in his, and scriptural, context (ch. 2), meditation and its worth (chapters 8 and 9), and the necessity of community (ch. 11). Each chapter concludes with several discussion questions aimed at helping the reader to digest the information just delivered.

As I said, Saucy is an Evangelical and we should not expect him to stray beyond that; however, his inclusion of scientific studies and habits not otherwise associated with that branch of Christianity must cause this book to appeal to a wider audience. For instance, his two chapters on meditation as a practice to aid in spiritual transformation is quite remarkable. He puts into a Scriptural perspective what meditation is and how it helps to rewire the brain. To safeguard unhealthy meditative practices found in New Age systems, Saucy has called upon the Great Tradition to render to us a more effective way of centering ourselves. His direction is to focus not on ourselves, but on God and his works. All of this, in my opinion, is well grounded in the better parts of Christianity. Because of this firm foundation, Saucy is able to take what we have found in Christianity and merge it with scientific studies to show the reader their value.

No book is perfect and I am more skeptical of certain authors than others. However, I would urge you, if you are encountering a heart that needs to be transformed, to choose this book and this author. In the end, while some may disapprove of Saucy’s direction, this book serves us well when we realize Christianity is more than a momentary point of enlightenment, but an ongoing journey towards perfection. We grow, we mature, and sometimes we have to almost start over. Understanding this is the first step to many, many more. As a Wesleyan, I find Saucy’s book a welcome addition to our conversation on what it means to grow in grace. 

Review of @KregelAcademic’s A Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers

Daniel Wallace, the most well-versed textual critic of our modern age, has compiled and parsed the most popular words used in Michael Holmes’s third edition of the Apostolic Fathers (Baker, 2007). Wallace’s book, as it says from the very first, is designed to coincide with Holmes’s work. While it may be possible use it elsewhere, it is not recommended.

In surveying some of the online responses as well as private conversations, the one real concern some will have with this book is that it is unlike the Reader’s New Testament produced by various publishing companies. And they are absolutely correct; however, as indicative of the title, it is not meant to be. It is, rather than a reader’s version of a text, a reader’s version of a lexicon. To this end, it not only accomplishes its goal, but provides us with a remarkable path forward in reconsidering how lexicons should be drafted in the future.

This lexicon is not meant to give the full understanding and all of the possible uses of the word. Rather, this is a gloss, a traditional form of reading a book from another language. The gloss gives you but a few possible uses without delivering the complete meaning and historical use of the word. To this end, the editors selected the best critical lexicons, such as Bauer’s, Danker, Liddell and Scott, and Lightfoot.

I will use 1 Clement 1.1 as an example of the above two comments. Because of the nature of posting the review, I will transliterate the Greek, although I note the lexicon does not. In 1 Clement 1.1, periboētos is used. We are told it is used twice in the lexicon and twice in the Apostolic Fathers. Then, we are given the simple gloss: well known, far famed, celebrated. Thus, as we are reading the Apostolic Fathers and we stumble at that word, there is no need to retrieve one of the larger lexicons and digest all of the historical information necessary for more in-depth study. Rather, we now have an immeasurable too to allow us to, as the title of this book suggests, read. As Wallace points out in the Preface, this pattern is repeated for all words appearing 30 times or less in the Apostolic Fathers.

The set up, which some will take issue with, looks more like a vocabulary list. My one complaint here is that the words are in alphabetical order. (Or course, if they were not, I may complain about that instead, admittedly.) I would rather like to have the words in the order as they appear in the verse. This is really nothing more than a personal preference. As an experiment, I read through the Epistle of Diognetus, a personal favorite, with little to no issue. The format of the Lexicon did not trouble me in its reading and I found the time it took to read the short work shortened when compared to having to find the word in one of my larger lexicons. 

This book is not for the novice. You cannot simply pick up a lexicon and know Greek. This is for the student and those who once knew Greek. It is a noteworthy progress in bringing Greek tools to a wider public, however.

 

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Review of @KregelAcademic’s Sunday School that Really Excels: Real Life Examples of Churches with Healthy Sunday Schools

As a member of a growing and Sunday School class — not the leader, as the leader is someone else in the class although I sometimes lead the discussion — I was rather excited to see this book. As a member of the United Methodist Church and in the Wesleyan Tradition, I am firm believer in the power of small groups, including Sunday School, as a means of strengthening the (local) Church. I was not disappointed.

While I disagree with some of the theological statements found here, I believe the authors of the essays are very much right on track. They express a hope for the rest of us, that we do not have to be the cookie-cutter dynamic small group leader with massive plans of church growth. No, instead, what you get is a sense that cookie-cutter programs, beyond the basic, does not work. Why? Because there is no church exactly like the other. And we are introduced by various essayists to more than a few of these different churches. From rural to city, from old to new, the churches and Sunday School classes spoken of in this book are easily recognizable as our own.

There is little doubt this book is written to those in the Southern Baptist Convention, with a focus on how the SBC views Holy Writ and only tapping SBC writers. But, for United Methodists and other mainline Christians, we should not be afraid to learn from those with a passion that should be ours as well. What I’ve learned is that what it takes to grow your Sunday School is to pay attention. Pay attention to your cultural situation. Several authors mention towns in extreme rural areas, such as northern Louisiana or someplace in Kansas. Imagine how they would have reacted to New York or Los Angeles style set-up and lessons. Pay attention is to design the Sunday School not with what the naysayers — and even some of the most positive people can be naysayers — have in mind, but what the local church needs. Finally, pay attention to engage your members, and not just with internal discussions, but with external events.

This book is a wonderful volume filled with success stories, with no two the same. The success is not measured in explosive church growth, but how well the Sunday School contributes to that growth. The final essay, written by the editor (Steve R. Parr), attempts to bring about all of the keys to success into a formulaic, over-arching, plan centered on what may otherwise be considered the ideal organizational growth map. There is nothing earth-shattering, but that — the ability to be earth-shattering without an earth-shattering plan — is a powerful statement.

The only question you have to answer is, Does Sunday School matter? I believe it does. The essayists believe it does. And if you do — or if you don’t — then you’ll need to read this book.

Some…thoughts from @ThomRainer on Sunday School @kregelacademic

You can also get this book from Kregel, here.

This is not a review, mind you, just some thoughts on Rainer’s interview with Steve R. Parr, author of the book. It is okay to take things away… You know, if you dislike one statement it doesn’t mean you have to throw away the book.

First, the statement I found to be a bit obnoxious.

“I have found that the less conservative-leaning denominations value Sunday school less because they value the Bible less.” (33)

Nevermind the fact Sunday School was started as a school for children in the factories (1780′s) and not to actually teach “the Bible.” Nevermind the fact that conservative is a subjective word. Nevermind the fact that for 1700 years, there was no Sunday School or that Communions and denominations “more conservative” that the SBC regularly devalue Sunday school. Nah, we just to take a swipe at those who do not value Sunday School… assuming that they somehow devalue “the Bible.” We can suggest, perhaps, Rainer and those who practice bibliolatry are really the liberals here seeing as their high view of “the Bible” is not part of Christian Tradition until recently.

But, if I were to take this statement and throw away the book, I’d miss some of the insight suggested by both Parr and Rainer on pages 30-31. Here, these speak about the “dismantl(ing) of the Sunday school in order to move small groups in the churches…” (Parr, 30). Rainer takes this line and issues some well qualified statements that to devalue one above the other is to hurt both. Sunday school works when it is respected for what it is. The same thing with small groups.

From the start, we have to recognize this book is written by a conservative Southern Baptist for other conservatives. Their value on “the Word of God” as well as Rainer’s swipe against “less conservative leaning denominations” may be off putting, but in reading further, I have found that the problems faced by each other in looking at the Sunday school movement.

We should ask ourselves first “why Sunday school?” There are some really good answers to that.

If you take every book whole you are going to choke. If you dismiss every book whole because you don’t like some of the statements found therein, you will starve.

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