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Archive for June, 2010

A few days ago I wrote a post called “5 Must Read Scholars (for the non-academic),” and this is intended as a quick follow-up (that’s taken me 3 days to write).  You can call this the “honorable mention” list, the “B-Team,” the “JV Squad,” etc.  I’d like to follow this up with a list of scholars I wish would write for a non-academic audience, but that probably won’t happen for a few weeks as I’ll be off the radar for a while.  Anywho, see my previous post if you want to know my angle on this.  Without further ado…

(1) Craig Keener.  Of the 5 on this list, Keener was the hardest for me to leave off the original.  Part of this is because he’s a great scholar.  His knowledge of ancient backgrounds is simply astounding (though he can overdo this and include much that is less relevant, such as in his large Matthew commentary).  But what I appreciate about him the most is his humility.  Keener sees himself primarily as a servant of the church.  I was hooked just reading the dedication page of his Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament, which is dedicated to those working on the “frontlines” of ministry and do not have the time to research historical and cultural backgrounds to the Bible.  Keener isn’t simply amassing knowledge to write books; he’s dispensing it for the benefit of the church.  (I should also mention, he fits firmly in the Pentecostal/Charismatic camp and, thus, I have a soft spot for him.)

If you want a feel for his humility, check out these two interviews: with Matt at Broadcast Depth and with Nijay Gupta (Part I and Part II).

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(2) Douglas Stuart.  I need to give a shout-out to one of my former profs.  Stuart is an excellent combination of scholarly rigor and pastoral sensitivity, and I’m privileged to say I’ve learned from him firsthand.  One top of the “How to Read the Bible…” books he’s coauthored with Gordon Fee, Stuart has written a couple commentaries for both pastors and scholars (and the mix, of course), as well as an excellent book on OT exegesis.  While I’m here, I might as well plug (once again) his OT Survey course, available for free at Bible Training. 

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(3) Darrell Bock.  In my last post, Nick mentioned Bock as another option, and I heartily agree.  His massive 2-volume Luke commentary is outstanding, and has written 2 shorter ones that would be great for laypeople.  One main reason he didn’t make my first list is that I haven’t read a ton of his stuff, so I can’t speak first hand about everything (maybe Nick can chime in if he reads this).  Nonetheless, the stuff he has written on the popular level, specifically dealing with the trustworthiness of the biblical Gospels, would benefit anyone who reads them.

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(4) Tremper Longman III.  Longman is an excellent OT scholar and widely respected.  Some of his more popular level stuff I haven’t read, though IVP sent me How to Read Exodus a while back and it looks helpful.  Again, I think I appreciate his desire to communicate effectively with non-scholars, so I’m including him on this list.

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(5) George Eldon Ladd.  Ladd may seem like an odd choice here, and not just because he’s the only deceased scholar on either list, but his inclusion is definitely deliberate.  Given all the confusion regarding eschatology in the church, I think it is important to read solid biblical scholarship on the issue (part of why I recommended N T Wright on my first post).  Greg Beale is also good here, but I think Ladd’s influence is greater than many realize.  I see bits of his work on eschatology and the kingdom in many different places, from scholars like Gordon Fee & Craig Blomberg to men like John Wimber.  Someday, when I have a year with nothing to do (read: never), I’d love to do a side-by-side reading of George Ladd and N T Wright.  Between the two of them, I think you can end up with a pretty solid view of God’s ultimate plan of redemption.

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Academic reading suggestions:

Is there anyone else I’m missing?

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A conversation over at Marcus’ blog reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time.  I’ve wanted to do a list of must-read scholars for a while, but have never been sure how to approach it.  Do I do a list of the best?  Most influential?  Most interesting?  Do I restrict it to OT scholars?  NT scholars?  Theologians?  Do I go completely subjective and list my favorites, or do I include those with whom I’m less enamored?  Will anyone even care about my stupid list?  These are the questions in my mind…

I’ve opted to consider my main audience for this blog: the average churchgoer.  I know people from my church read this blog who are not academically trained but are still interested in learning from Bible scholars.  They may not know Greek and Hebrew, but they desire to glean from the insights of those who do.  So I’ve decided to tailor this list to this (somewhat imaginary) group.  Because of this, I will leave off scholars who have made a major impact on scholarship but are less helpful to the layperson (the Rudolf Bultmann types).  I’m also sticking to my area of “expertise” (if I may be permitted a moment of hubris), which mostly NT & OT scholarship (so no systematic theologians).  The list is presented in no particular order.

Allow me to make a couple other notes:

  • I’m weighing more heavily toward the NT side of things.  This is for 2 main reasons: 1) I know NT scholarship better than I do OT scholarship, and 2) most of my favorite OT scholars have written little for the layperson in mind (I’m thinking of Gordon Wenham and guys like that). 
  • I’ll give a couple reading recommendations for each scholar, in case my reader(s) want(s) to dig deeper.
  • The scholars on this list are invited to mention their inclusion on their resume or CV.  You’re welcome. 
  • If you think this is just an excuse to talk about scholars and books, you know me very well.  =)

(1) Gordon Fee.  Come on, if you’ve been reading this blog for more than 5 seconds you knew Fee was making the cut.  In fact, I’d have to turn in my charismatic membership card if I didn’t include him.  I appreciate any man who writes the book on exegesis, but insists that exegesis is merely the first step in applying the Bible to the life of the church.  I also appreciate any scholar whose lectures are more like sermons.  I heard a line from his daughter, theologian Cherith Fee Nordling, about Fee that sums up what I appreciate about him (paraphrase): my father loves the Lord and loves the Bible, but never in reverse order. 

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(2) Christopher J H Wright.  It’s funny, 6 months ago I may not have included Wright.  But the more I read his stuff, the more I want to give him a high-five (see my previous post for an indication).  In some ways, he’s an interesting bird- how many OT scholars are also missiologists?  A Cambridge PhD who trained church planters in India and now heads up John Stott’s ministry organization?  This is my kind of guy. 

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Academic reading suggestions

(3) Richard Bauckham.  Bauckham has actually written less for the layperson than the rest of the scholars on this list, but I wanted to include him anyway because he’s one of the few scholars refered to as “groundbreaking” that may actually deserve the title.  Mind you, no one is really groundbreaking.  When I mentioned in a class at my church that Bauckham had written a book defending the eyewitness connection to the Gospels, I was met with “no duh” stares.  It’s not his conclusion that is groundbreaking, it’s the manner in which he makes his case that sets him apart from so many others.  Bauckham is the toughest read on this list, but may well be worth the trouble.

Reading suggestions

(4) D A Carson.  This is not Carson’s first appearance on this blog.  There are few scholars who have made so much of their work accessible to the church, as you can see here on his resource page at The Gospel Coaltion website.  This son of a church planter in French Canada has planted churches, travels around the world every year speaking in churches and conferences, teaches and advises students, yet still finds time to write somewhere around a million books a year.  He cranks out a book faster than I write a blog post.  If I had to pick one scholar on this list for the average layperson to read I think Carson would be it, not because he’s the best scholar but because he does the best job of communicating to the audience I’m aiming for.  Note: this list of books is highly selective, there are many more I could include.

Layperson reading suggestions

Academic reading suggestions

(5) N T Wright.  I’ll confess, I’ve been debating whether or not I should include Wright on this list.  If we’re talking about most interesting, he’d easily make the list.  Everything he writes is worth reading, even if he’s dead wrong (note, over 1100 people went to a conference at Wheaton centering on Wright’s scholarship).  Wright is brilliant- sometimes brilliantly right, and sometimes brilliantly wrong.  I’ve put it this way: Wright is a classic pendulum swinger.  He’ll notice an over-emphasis on something, then in attempt to correct this problem he’ll go too far in his emphasis.  If you know that going in, you’ll do well in reading him.  Anyway, I love reading his stuff, but you must always read with discernment.

Layperson reading suggestions

Academic reading suggestions

So there’s my list; maybe on another post I can give my “near miss” category (I’m at 1300+ words already though).  I’d love to hear thoughts from others out there, either about the people on this list or others you think should be included.

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If salvation were something that we could find for ourselves or achieve through some self-chosen religious pathway, then evangelism would be a matter of going to other people and trying to persuade them to be like us, to follow our religious practices, or adhere to our sacred methods and rituals.  We would be salesmen for our particular religious brand.  We would be advertisers, making claims for our own particular product and promising happiness and satisfaction to those who buy this product instead of some other one.  Sadly, that is how a lot of Christian evangelism actually does operate, and certainly it is what it often sounds like to the outside world.  And understandably people reject such tactics.

But God did not call his people to persuade others to follow the practices of their religion in the hope of finding salvation for themselves.  He did not call us to advertise our own brand or extend our own franchised salvation outlet stores.  God called his people to be witnesses to what God himself has already done.

Christopher J H Wright, Salvation Belongs to Our God, p110.

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Being Conformed to Christ in Community: A Study of Maturity, Maturation and the Local Church in the Undisputed Pauline Epistles, by James Samra.  This book is the published version of Jim Samra’s Oxford dissertation in the Library of New Testament Studies series.  Full disclosure: Samra is the senior pastor of a church in Michigan, where my wife’s uncle also pastors.  He (my uncle-in-law) is the one who gave me this book because he thought I’d be interested, and he was right.  It is a rare dissertation that makes me say, “this would make a great teaching in the church.”  In fact, I think some of this work might show up in his upcoming release, The Gift of the Church Being Conformed to Christ in Community is a bit dissertationy, which keeps it from being ideal for church goers, but the fruit of Samra’s labor begs to be distilled in a more popular format.  For Samra, the process of maturation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, and this process is intended to be lived out and aided by life in the local church (note the emphasis on ‘process’).  To give a taste, Samra sees 5 components to the process of maturity: 1) identifying with Christ; 2) enduring suffering; 3) experiencing the presence of God; 4) receiving and living out wisdom from God; and 5) imitating a godly example (p168).  While this book showcases Samra’s skills as a New Testament scholar, I was more blessed by his obviously pastoral concern for the church.  I look forward to his next book.

Jesus in a New Age, Dalai Lama World: Defending and Sharing Christ with Buddhists, by M. Tsering.  I remember hearing an Asian pastor once say “it is 10 times harder for a Buddhist to come to Christ than a Muslim.”  The opinion was obviously observational, and perhaps hyperbolic, but gets at a major issue in sharing Christ with a Buddhist: the Buddhist worldview is far removed from a Christian one.  This book deals specifically with Tibetan Buddhism, which is, in many ways, quite removed from the earliest (some might say ‘purist’) forms of Buddhism.  Tsering gives an overview of the religious history of Tibet, showing the movement from early shamanism to modern Tibetan Buddhism, which is essentially a combination of Buddhism and shamanism.  He surveys the worldview of Tibetan Buddhists and the struggles of reaching them with the gospel (both historically and strategically).  There are wonderfully helpful tidbits throughout the book.  Anyone interested in the intersection between Buddhism and Christianity, or even in cross-cultural missions more broadly, would benefit from reading this book.

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