Posts Tagged ‘Michael Bird’

Over at Euangelion, Michael Bird has an interview with Sean McDonough, one of my former profs at Gordon-Conwell, on his new book, Christ as Creator.  I’d love to get my hands on this book, though the $100+ price tag is… well… not even an option.  So, interviews like this will have to do.  I recommend you check it out to get a glimpse.

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I’m going to be honest: I don’t feel like I read as many good books this year as I did last year.  My guess is that’s due largely to having a baby in April; less time = fewer books, unless you count Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See.  When I did this list last year, I had to think about how to narrow down my number to 5.  This year, I’m pushing it to get to 5.  Anyway, here goes.  Like last year, books on this list may not have been published in 2009 (I don’t have time to keep that up-to-date), but that I first read it this year.  Here we are, in no particular order:

The Epic of Eden, by Sandra Richter

Okay, I lied about the whole “no particular order” thing.  This was my favorite new read of 2009.  Simply put, this is the best book that I’ve read geared towards lay people that clearly explains the often foreign world of the Old Testament.  As I said in my review, “One gets the sense that she’s explained these things in non-academic settings before.”  My biggest complaint now is trying to find a way to fit it into an already jammed packed training school curriculum.

Introducing Paul, by Michael Bird

This is another book written by a biblical scholar but can be read by non-scholars.  I mentioned Bird’s wit in my review, as well as in a video, and it helps liven up the book considerably.  There are a million books out there on Paul, but few that lay out the issues so clearly as this one.  Bird isn’t content to focus merely on academic debates, but can get practical as well.  I look forward to what this young scholar will be offering down the road, and I hope he continues writing books on this level as well as his more in-depth academic treatments.

The Revelation of Saint John, by Ian Boxall

After reading this book, I finally felt like I had found a commentary on Revelation I could recommend to people in my church.  Let me be clear, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.  By its very nature any commentary on Revelation will be a bit difficult to wade through.  But time and time again I felt like Boxall took a position and explained it clearly and concisely.  By the end of it I found myself wishing he had more space.  One of Boxall’s strength is the use of Ezekiel in Revelation, which has inspired me to study Ezekiel more in-depth than I ever had before (I’m actually following through on what I wrote in my review of this book).  At any rate, this is my favorite non-technical commentary on Revelation.

The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24, by Daniel Block

Okay, I’m cheating a bit here.  One, I haven’t actually finished this book.  Two, it was published 12 years ago (hence my “not necessarily published in 2009” caveat above).  Block’s 2-volume commentary has been regarded by many evangelical scholars as the best commentary on Ezekiel since it came out.  As mentioned above, Boxall on Revelation inspired me to study Ezekiel more deeply, so I used some gift cards to get Block’s commentary.  I’m so thankful I did, as it has been a reliable (and enjoyable) guide to this often confusing OT prophet.

We Become What We Worship, by Gregory Beale

I think I have to include this one, since I did a 5-Part book review of it.  I had my disagreements with Beale’s exegesis at points, thinking that he stretched a bit to fit things under his thesis.  But still, I came away with a stronger sense of the Bible’s teaching on idolatry and how it destroys our worship of our God.  Tough reading at points, but worth the time and effort.

Honorable Mention

The Book of Basketball, by Bill Simmons

Okay, this is definitely cheating.  But, this is Boston Bible Geeks, and Bill Simmons is known as the Boston Sports Guy.  Maybe there aren’t that many people who would read a 700 page book on the NBA, and even fewer who would do it in a weekend, but I’m one of them.  The problems with Simmons: juvenile humor and an overload of soon-to-be-outdated pop culture references (which I’m sure will be his excuse to update this book every 5-10 years to sell more copies).  The upside: well, he writes about sports and entertains while he does it.  I’m a sucker for sports history- comparing eras, taking on longheld myths, arguing about which players are the best and who’s overrated.  Sure, Simmons is gimmicky and overplays his “I’m just an average fan” hand.  (He brags about how he pays for his season tickets instead of using a press pass- big deal when you make a ton of money and have the time to go to all those games.)  But, he does take the discussions that many of us “regular” fans have and turns them into columns and books, and manages to do it reasonably well.  He isn’t for everybody, but for the younger generation of  Boston sports fans, well, we’re obligated to read him.

How about you?  I’d love to hear some thoughts from our reader(s) regarding what new reads they’d recommend for us.

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More on Michael Bird’s Humor

In my review of Michael Bird’s book, Introducing Paul, I mention his sense of humor (or, humour, for those who pine for British rule).  Over at Zondervan Academic’s blog, Koinonia, they’ve been posting short videos of their road trip through the midwest with this Scotland based Australian New Testament scholar.  Thus far, they’ve been fairly entertaining.  To give you a glimpse, here’s a spoof of Koinonia’s “Influential Authors” series they’ve been doing.

For more you can check out the ongoing series over Koinonia or at Euangelion, Bird’s blog.

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Thanks to Adrianna of IVP for a review copy of this book.

Michael Bird is a rising young voice amongst New Testament scholars.  An Australian by birth who now teaches in Scotland, he has made himself notable for good scholarship, offering mediating positions between debating parties and blogging (over at Euangelion, which we have linked to the right).  In some senses, he’s rare in the world of Bible scholars, particularly in two ways: he avoids idiosyncrasies (i.e., he doesn’t seem to have an axe to grind) and he’s fairly funny.  Both of these points come up in this book.

Introducing Paul is an excellent and compact guide to Paul and his letters, or as the subtitle states, “The Man, His Mission and His Message.”  The back cover of the book purports to aim for “beginning students and laypeople,” an audience Bird seems particularly suited for.  His discussion is in depth enough to get past the surface level and to the heart of the issues, but not bogged down in details to the point of obscuring the message of Paul.

Bird introduces Paul using five dominant images: persecutor, missionary, theologian, pastor and martyr.  One comes away with the understanding that Paul was not merely a dogmatic theologian looking to wield his authority, but rather a church planter and pastor who eagerly sought the health of his churches.  His theological work was intended to serve and strengthen the church.

There are a number of good points to highlight from this book.  Included is a chapter on the gospel and its terminology, as well as Greco-Roman uses of those same terms to give the reader an idea of how words like “gospel” or “savior” would have been understood in Paul’s day.  This point has been made by many scholars, of course, but Bird actually puts quotations from ancient writings to make his point.  Bird gives a brief overview of the “stories behind the story,” dealing with Abraham, the church, Israel, etc.  I could see bits and pieces of various scholars throughout this chapter, but it was presented in a fresh way that made it enjoyable to learn all over again.

On the debate over justification (most popularly in the Piper vs. Wright showdown), Bird notes that “imputation” is never explicitly stated in Paul but it is an undeniable extension of what is clearly taught, namely “incorporated righteousness” (to use Bird’s term).  Bird also allows a greater place for the resurrection of Jesus than many evangelicals, who often relegate it to “proof of what God did on the cross” (p166).  The “wretched man” of Romans 7 is not Paul as a Christian, but rather written from the point of view of a “pre-Christian.”  There were even moments of personal conviction in this book, especially in his chapter on “gospelizing.”

There are, of course, areas where I was not in full agreement, though they were few and relatively unimportant.  I noticed some grammatical issues, such as a relative clause that stands alone as a sentence.  Which is poor English.  Paul wasn’t referring to offending people when he warns against causing someone to stumble in 1 Corinthians 8 (p152).  Paul is actually talking about leading a brother or sister to act against their conscience, and therefore sin.

While I greatly appreciated the emphasis on the Greco-Roman background of certain terms in Paul, as noted above, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Old Testament could have received more space.  After all, didn’t Isaiah have something to say about the “good news” of salvation?  Old Testament references are offered in the helpful chart on pages 87-88, but the Greco-Roman parallels receive paragraphs instead.

A subsection specifically designated for the Holy Spirit would have been helpful, too.  It’s not that I disagreed with what Bird had to say about the Holy Spirit, but the references were scattered throughout the book.  Since there is no subject index, one couldn’t simply look there to find the references; nor is there anything in the bibliography that stood out as a book dedicated to the subject (Gordon Fee, anyone?).  But the main reason I point this out is because of the book’s intended audience.  Sure, scholars know where to look in this book to find out what Bird thinks of Paul’s view of the Holy Spirit.  They’ve read widely enough on the subject that they know the types of places that scholars will place the discussion.  But the audience of this book is “beginning students and laypeople.”  These are the kinds of people who will want to find a quicker route to what they’re looking for, but will come up disappointed.  It’s a shame, too, because Bird has a strong grasp of Paul’s view of the Spirit, who is active in more ways than many Christians think.

But those points should not detract from the high regard I have for this book.  Bird has a done a remarkable job of making Paul make sense.  I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t do well to read this book, which hits its target audience very well.  I also think that anyone preaching or teaching on Paul’s letters ought to read this book to help them place each letter in the context of Paul’s life and ministry.

I couldn’t recommend this book highly enough.  Bird has a wonderful gift for communicating difficult concepts in an enjoyable -at times witty- manner, but still serious enough given the subject matter.  Bird, like Paul himself, is not content in the ivory tower, but seems to have the goal of helping build the church.  If we can hear Paul’s message in our time, the church can only more faithfully reflect the image of Christ.  Michael Bird helps us hear Paul’s message.

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