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Archive for December, 2010

Whereas last year I had a hard time naming 5 good books I read in 2009, I’m having trouble keeping it to 5 for 2010.  Actually, I forgot The Cross and Christian Ministry and The Prodigal God last year, so the list would have been pretty good.  I started making my list earlier this year to avoid the same mistake.  As with previous years, this list is comprised of books I read for the first time this year, not that were published this year.  In fact, I don’t think I even read 5 books published in 2010.  Unlike previous years, I’m giving an order to this, in order of ascending appreciation.  Interestingly, despite the fact I reviewed 10 books this year for publishers, none of the books on this list were from them. 

This list does not include revised editions of books I’ve previously read, otherwise Jesus and the Gospels: 2nd Edition would have made the cut. 

5. Conforming to Christ in Community, by Jim Samra

I first mentioned this book back in June, and as I’ve thought back on the books I read this year, this one stood out as a strong one because of it’s usefulness, despite it’s dissertationy feel (because… um… it’s a dissertation).  I’m currently reading Samra’s scaled down book on the value of the church, which is also quite good, but my guess is that I’ll revisit this one when I want to refresh myself on Paul’s teaching on the church and its importance for the maturation of Christians. 

4. The Pentateuch as Narrative, by John Sailhamer

I mentioned this book a couple months back as my new “curveball” book for the Pentateuch.  When I need a slightly different take, or someone to help me make connections within the Pentateuch that I easily miss, John Sailhamer is my guy.  It’s hard to think of the first five books of the Bible as disjointed and boring after reading Sailhamer. 

3. Jesus in a New Age, Dalai Lama World, by M. Tsering

The world of Tibetan Buddhism is a fascinating one, and its worldview couldn’t be much more different from the biblical one.  This book is a wonderful introduction to this worldview, and offers many suggestions how to share Christ with those who hold it.  This book is so well done that I think anyone interested in missions and cross-cultural evangelism would do well to read it because many of the principles are universal. 

2. A Call to Spiritual Reformation, by D A Carson

I read a lot of Carson this year, so much so that I could have done a top 5 just with Carson books and they’d all be very good.  I opted not to include more than one Carson book.  The God Who Is There is outstanding, I’ve benefitted greatly from the two volumes of For the Love of God during my morning quiet times.  I could add Collected Writings on Scripture and make it 5 (Scandalous wouldn’t quite make the cut).  But when I needed a boost in my prayer life, I turned to this book and it delivered.  So I chose this one out of the many because of the impact it had on me personally.  Using the prayers in Paul as a guide to our own prayers seems like such an obvious approach, I wonder why I had never thought of it.  I’ve read a lot of Carson, not just this year but in previous years, but this is my favorite and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

1. Salvation Belongs to Our God, by Christopher J H Wright

Despite also reading The Mission of God, which is Wright’s massive and more detailed book demonstrating the missional character of God, this shorter book stands as my favorite of the year.  As I mentioned in my review, I ended up taking 33 pages of notes on it!  It’s not that I agree with everything in this book, in fact I’d say I agreed more with the previous book on this list than this one.  But Wright captivated me with his ability to place things in the context of the biblical story in a compelling manner.  This is biblical theology done well.

Looking Ahead

My reading load for 2011 will be much smaller due to some major constraints on my personal time.  However, I am currently reading John Jefferson Davis’ Worship and the Reality of God, Jim Samra’s The Gift of Church and will soon be starting Jim Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment.  On top of that, I plan on reading David Platt’s Radical and John Piper’s Think, and Ron Jaworski’s The Games that Changed the Game.  The first three will all be reviewed here; the other 3 may get a mention.  I’d be interested to know what books BBG readers enjoyed reading this year, so feel free to leave a comment.

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Thank you to Zondervan for a review copy of Grant Osborne’s commentary on Matthew and an opportunity to be a part of the ZECNT Blog Tour.  See also Part 1 and Part 2 of this review.

While my first post of this series looked mostly at the overview of the series and the introduction, and the second at specific features within the commentary proper, this post’s goal is to give my final thoughts on the commentary as a whole.  Given the fairly unique nature of the ZECNT series, I think it might be helpful to break my final thoughts down into two main sections: features and commentary.

Regarding the features, the ZECNT nails it pretty well.  Sure, maybe it didn’t need all 7 sections, and I would have loved the “sentence flow” to be in Greek rather than Osborne’s English translation.  But, as my second post details, the features aren’t wasted, and they actually fulfill their purpose.  The form helps facilitate the function.   The ZECNT team is to be commended for a creative approach to the commentary genre, one that hits the target “busy pastor” audience well and should help in sermon preparation.

But every commentary needs to be judged largely on the ability of the author to explain the biblical text and defend his conclusions.  As I’ve already said in the previous posts, because of the relatively short amount of time I’ve had with the commentary I have not been able to spend as much time as I would like in order to give my opinion on the matter.  It’s important to me that I need to get a strong grasp of the commentary before I begin recommending it over other trusted ones, and 1100+ pages is tough to wade through quickly.

My sense as I read through some of it is that Osborne is an excellent evangelical commentator.  His conclusions are in the mainstream evangelical camp; there is nothing world-rocking to be found in these pages.  He does survey the options, but is clear where he stands on each matter.  The Gospel of Matthew is well served in the commentary world, with Carson, France and Blomberg holding down the camp in the “intermediate category,” and Allison and Davies, Hagner, Turner, Nolland and Keener in the larger, more technical camp.  Given the prevalance of Greek in the commentary, Osborne’s would fit the “technical” category, though would be much more accessible than Allison and Davies or Hagner to the pastor whose Greek has slipped some.  For the pastor looking for a solid evangelical commentary, Osborne would be an excellent choice, especially given the creative and time-saving approach to the commentary layout.  His pastoral heart, in my opinion, also sets him apart, as it’s clear he has experienced the struggles of most pastors in sermon preparation and genuinely wants to help them.

The series editors are to be commended for an excellent concept and approach to the ZECNT series, and Grant Osborne is to be commended for executing it so well.

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I posted Part 1 of this review the other day, and I’ll post the third one next week.  All of these are a part of Zondervan’s ZECNT Blog Tour, with a review copy given by Zondervan.  In this post, I want to look briefly at some of the features of the commentary itself. 

Each pericope is dealt with in 7 main sections: Literary Context, Main Idea, Translation and Graphical Layout, Structure, Exegetical Outline, Explanation of the Text and Theology in Application.  I won’t comment on all of these, but simply make a few notes about how they are utilized in Osborne’s commentary.

Literary Context

I like the inclusion of a “literary context” section, which includes both a short paragraph or two explaining each pericope’s place in its literary context, as well as a visual outline.  For instance:

VIII. The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus (26:1-28:20)

A. The Passion Narrative (26:1-27:61)

1. Preliminary Events (26:1-16)

a. Introduction- Plot to Kill Jesus (26:1-5)

b. Anointing of Jesus (26:6-13)

c. Judas’s Betrayal (26:14-16)

So, if the pastor is preaching on 26:6-13, they not only see where it fits in the larger scheme of the Passion Narrative, but Osborne also points out that this story “is deliberately placed here by Mark and Matthew to supply a contrast with Judas’s betrayal” (p948, although I’d also argue it contrasts with the plot of kill Jesus in 26:1-5).  Such features are hardly revolutionary, but they help busy pastors grab some insight into a passage that will come in handy in sermon preparation.  While some pastors may have looked at these stories as disconnected episodes, they can see how Matthew structured his narrative to highlight certain features. 

Translation

A commentary that provides the author’s translation- unremarkable.  A commentary that provides the author’s translation in a modified “sentence flow” format- genius.  Throw in a few insights from the world of discourse analysis and you have what will be, in my opinion, the single most helpful aspect of the ZECNT series (perhaps moreso in the epistles, but still helpful in narrative literature as well).  By lining up the main clauses to the left of the translation, and indenting the subordinate clauses, the reader will be able to see exactly what Osborne thinks the main points are for each passage and how the passage as a whole flows (sorry, I wish I had an electronic shot to post here, and it’ll take too long for me to type up myself).

So, for example, the antithetical nature of Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Matthew 6:5-15 is easy to see in this section: hypocrites pray like this, and this is their reward; you should pray like this, and this will be your reward.  The “unexpected insertions” into the genealogy of Matthew 1 are even easier to spot because they’re indented under each main clause.  Like I said, I do think this feature is most useful in epistles, where the logical flow of a passage is perhaps more difficult to understand. 

The reason I said I think this will be the most useful feature of this series is simply from my experience in hearing thousands of sermons over the years.  One of the struggles in expository preaching, where a preacher focuses on one main text (usually) is that many preachers think in terms of bullet points rather than flow of thought.  Sermons are structured in a way that we want: 3 points, whether or not they flow together or demonstrate any progression is a relatively minor concern.  But this feature will help pastors see that they can still get “bullet points,” only now they can have a bit more confidence that their sermon points are the main points of the passage and that they do in fact fit together coherently.

Explanation of the Text

This is the section that is traditionally thought of when the word “commentary” is used, and it is the single most important feature of any commentary.  As I stated in Part 1 of this review, I was not able to spend as much time reading through this commentary as I would like for a review because of the time constraints.  But I’ve read enough to get an idea of how Osborne utilizes this section. 

The use of Greek is prevalant throughout, along with English transations of all Greek words and phrases, although I do think those without any Greek knowledge could still benefit from it.  Osborne comments on the text, one clause or sentence at a time, although even with all the Greek, I didn’t get a sense there’s much discussion in terms of syntax and more “upper level” grammar (but maybe a little more digging would prove me wrong). 

One helpful aspect of Osborne’s approach is that he will occasionally offer a list of options for a passage (as opposed to simply mentioning them in the text) with appropriate footnotes for the interested reader.  So if the reader wants to look into the four options (of many more) presented on the meaning of “fulfill” in 5:17 they can easily do so.  Osborne’s surveys are quick and he is always clear where he stands.

Theology in Application

At the end of each pericope, Osborne offers a handful of suggestions for how the teaching of this passage could be applied.  He only gives a paragraph or two to each point, but enough to spur on some thought.  This is always where I get a little worried about commentators, since they’re writing for a very general audience and their application ideas are not always connected to the text.  But Osborne’s comments are mostly preliminary, such as “foregoing rights” (on Matthew 17:24-27) or a couple paragraphs on the important of obedience to Christ (on 7:13-29).  Once in a while I ran across something that made me cringe, such as “In Third World situations, social concern is the best evangelistic tool” (p367), which strikes me as an awfully simplistic answer to an incredibly complex situation (not to mention a statement in desperate need of some nuance).  And more often than not it seems Osborne is assuming an audience of people just like him, as seen is his use of “we” without any clarification.  But overall, I appreciate the obvious pastoral heart of Grant Osborne.

In Part 3, I’ll give some brief, final thoughts on the commentary and how it fulfills the vision of the ZECNT.

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A few weeks back I snagged a review copy of Grant Osborne’s new (and monstrous) commentary on Matthew as part of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Blog Tour.  When I first saw their post, I thought there would be no way I’d read the entire 1100+ pages by December 15, especially given the new baby in the house.  However, they mentioned that the reviewer would not need to read it cover to cover but give it a “fair look” and review it.  My plan is to do this in 3 parts posted over the next week or so.

With the ZECNT series, Zondervan is trying to do something different with their commentaries.  There are more “bells and whistles” in this series than in most.  In ZECNT volumes, each passage is handled in 7 components: Literary Context, Main Idea, Translaton and Graphical Layout, Structure, Exegetical Outline, Explanation of the Text, Theology in Application.  I’ll comment on some of these features in my forthcoming posts; in this post I’ll comment on the “pre-commentary” matter.

Good

Osborne’s Introduction is relatively short, considering the size of the commentary in general.  I, for one, appreciate this, especially given the audience of this series- pastors and teachers who have studied some level of Greek but aren’t “experts.”  In other words, this series is geared towards the “busy pastor” type (is that term redundant?). 

As far as I can tell, Osborne gets this.  From the outset it is very clear that he has empathy for the pastor who preaches through a gospel and keeps this question in mind: “What would I want to know as a pastor preparing a sermon on this passage?” (p22).  To this end, Osborne gives a quick (5 page) overview on gospel hermeneutics- studying the plot, characters, etc.  It may seem elementary, but Osborne’s tips will help the pastor preach Matthew’s gospel well, rather than a “life of Jesus” style sermon, where the distinctives of the gospel account are minimized.

All the other details traditionally handled in a commentary are found here: authorship (where Osborne takes the traditional view), date (pre-70AD, with a comment about Mark beign written in the 50′s that I found interesting), audience (clearly influenced by Richard Bauckham and others against seeing a “Matthean community”) and so on.  He probably could have spent less time on sources, but that’s largely my own preference.

Osborne also includes a section on Matthew’s use of the OT, where he argues mainly for a typological understanding, which he defines as “analogous fulfillment” (p38).  Again, it may have been nice to see more here, but he does flesh out the details a bit more in his commentary proper; for example on Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15

Though not a direct messianic passage, this still constitutes fulfillment because Jesus as Messiah is corporately identified with Israel throughout its history… and so fulfills its experiences.  Jesus as Son is reliving the experiences of God’s children, Israel.

All in all, I liked Osborne’s simplified approach to the introduction.  Busy pastors don’t have all the time in the world to wade through the debates on authorship, audience, etc., and Osborne understands their plight.  He gives them an overview, cites sources for pastors to check for further information and gives his opinion.  You can’t ask for more than that given the intended audience.

Not-As-Good

Perhaps this is purely one of my idiosyncracies, but the “Contents” page has a major strike against it.  One of my pet peeves is when the commentary proper (the actual section of the book on the biblical text) is not broken down in the Table of Contents.  In this case, the reader sees this:

  • Commentary…………………..57

And that’s it.  For a commentary bent on being as user-friendly as this one, what logic would lead one not to lay out the commentary section more helpfully?  Osborne presents his structure of the Gospel of Matthew in detail at the end of the Introduction on pages 41-47; why couldn’t a simplified version of this outline make its way onto the contents page?  This would especially be helpful given the Contents page doesn’t even tell you what one can expect to find in the Introduction either.  Where would one find Osborne’s thoughts on authorship?  Somewhere between pages 21 (Introduction) and 49 (Select Bibliography). 

Related, but a lesser offense, is the non-mention of the excurses.  The Contents page would also be a wonderful place for the reader to find out about the occasional excursus that appear in the commentary.  But nary a word is mentioned about them.  I didn’t know, for instance, that an excursus (not actually labeled that, but set apart in a gray box) on the Son of Man occurs on pages 307-308 (on 8:22) until I was referred there as I was reading Osborne’s comments on 26:64.  If something is significant enough to warrant a special excursus, why wouldn’t it be included in a list of excurses?

Like I said, this may be my own little idiosyncracy.  But my opinion is that if you are trying to make your commentary user-friendly with various features to enhance the reading and learning experience, why would you miss something as simple and useful as a more detailed Contents page?  I promise that there is some college student in Grand Rapids who would love an internship at Zondervan who could take some time (and it really wouldn’t take much) to simplify and transfer Osborne’s outline to the Contents page with the appropriate page number.  Come on Zondervan- make a young Dutch boy’s dream and let him do it, maybe even give him a shout out on the acknowledgements page.

But let’s be clear about something- when your biggest gripe is the relative uselessness of the Table of Contents page, you know you’re dealing with a pretty good commentary.

More coming in Part 2, where I give a quick look at some of the features found in the commentary.

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I have two young boys, and every year my wife and I face the question, “What do we do with Santa Claus?”  Harmful?  Innocuous?  Demonic?  Idolatrous?  Innocent fun?  I would gather that most readers of this blog have had enough contact with contemporary Christian culture to know the threads of debate that surround the rotund gift-giver in red.  The Santa question really stems from a larger, more general question:  What do we do with American holidays?  Dare I mention the Easter Bunny, or even (gasp) Halloween?

The holiday issue is ultimately a “Christ and culture” issue.  How are we “in” but not “of” the world?  Consistent with my desire to run against Danny’s grain, I submit a holiday edition of 4 orderly nonentities (contra “5.5 random things”).  With a little more time, I could extend this list ad nauseum, but they are among those on the front-burner of my mind this season (and I needed an even integer to counter Danny’s odd decimal):

1. To level the field, let’s remember that a good amount of American Christian culture has non-Christian roots.  We cannot deny that the West has put a stamp on how we express Christianity.  From art (e.g., halos on saints) to (most) worship services being held on Sunday to the very dates we observe Christian holidays, none enjoy Biblical support, and most have legendary or pagan origins and influences.  We also tend to celebrate, in varying degrees, plenty of secular days without compunction: birthdays, the 4th of July, Martin Luther King Jr, Mother’s Day, etc.

2. I would wager that few of us are consistent with how we celebrate the holidays, with our personal preferences weighing more heavily than our theology.  Perhaps you will play along with Santa Claus, but the Easter Bunny really chafes you.  You won’t buy gifts during Christmas, but you will buy gifts for birthdays.

3. Abuse does not preclude proper use.  Perhaps Christmas has become a hopelessly corrupt orgy of consumerism, insincere well-wishing, and other vices that de-Christ Christmas.  That doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the Lord’s birth in a God-honoring way.

4. We must be mindful of Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 8, and consider how our actions affect those around us.  Perhaps for you Halloween has always been a harvest-themed celebration involving costumes and candy; that’s all you practice, and it is little more.  For others, Halloween may be the very picture of overt occultism.  By extension, consider your witness outside the Church.  What distinguishes you from the rest during Christmas time?

When all the chips are on the table, I am always suspicious of pat answers to “Christ and culture” questions, especially those of the knee-jerk variety.  There are numerous factors, some of which are quite subtle, worth bringing to bear on decisions about how to be “in” but not “of.”  In large measure, I believe that the process is more important than the result.  What’s driving our decision one way or another?  What is our ultimate goal or focus?  Are our decisions Biblically informed, prayerfully considered, and gospel-centered?  Are they rooted in self-righteousness, self-justification or pride?  Are we seeking God’s glory above all else, or are we after comfort, fitting in, or some other lesser – however noble – good?  Do we consider alternate viewpoints with charity or swift condemnation?  To paraphrase a recent quote from the beloved D.A. Carson, “Are you contending for the gospel, or are you contentious about the gospel?”

I’d be interested if any readers would like to comment on how they handle the holidays, secular or religious.  Even better if you have a few principles that you use as guides to decision-making.  You may consider Christmas only if you need a narrower scope. Gifts?  Santa?  Tree?  Stockings?  Fancy dinner?  Midnight vigils?  Tell all.

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5.5.  This post is dedicated to not throwing up.  Why do I take you for granted?

5. Great quote posted by Marcus from Blomberg and Kamell’s commentary on James, one that all students of the Bible would do well to read.

4. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I didn’t read his post, but Trevin Wax’s title says it all: Why “Dawn Treader” Will Sink the Narnia Franchise.  I’m not a Lewis junkie, but many of the reviews I’ve seen (again, not reading them thoroughly to avoid spoilers) have been quite positive, so I’m interested in what you Lewis experts think of Wax’s review.

3. Is it wrong that I thought this was funny?  (HT)

2. I never knew the man, never studied under him and have read very few things by him, but at Gordon-Conwell many of the “old guard” had so much respect for him that I couldn’t help but note the passing of theologian Roger Nicole.

1. You haven’t seen much action around here lately because my wife and I (finally) have welcomed our second child and first son to the family (and, unrelated, the previously alluded to sickness).  And here is where I selfishly plug our family blog.  Posting will begin picking up tomorrow, as I’m taking part in the ZECNT blog tour (here for details).  I’ll probably post 3 times (12/15, 17 & 20- give or take a day or two) regarding Grant Osborne’s Matthew commentary.

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