Book Review – “Acts” (EP Study Commentary) by Guy Prentiss Waters

Acts, by Guy PActs EP Study Commentary (book cover)rentiss Waters (published by Evangelical Press), is the latest contribution to the popular EP Study Commentary series. Before offering comments on the substance of the book, though, I must first express my own disappointment with the publisher’s decision to publish this and other recent volumes in this series in a paperback format. Previous contributions (including, for example, John Currid’s excellent series of commentaries on the Pentateuch) were published in beautiful hardcover volumes, often with eye-catching images on the front of the dust jackets. Those are attractive, durable volumes and – of course – when aligned on a bookshelf together, they look rather terrific!

Now, however, the publisher seems intent on publishing the remaining volumes in a nice, but rather generic, paperback cover. Obviously, this aims to save some money for both the publisher and the purchaser (which is always appreciated), but since hardcover editions aren’t even being produced for these volumes, it will likely appear to some book buyers that an entirely new series has been started and will be less likely that they will quickly associate these volumes with the numerous hardcover volumes that have already been published in the series. Furthermore, since frequently used paperbacks are more likely to develop cracks and creases and to have pages come loose from the spine, some buyers may (unfortunately) opt for other Bible commentaries simply because they’re available in hardcover editions.

Of course, personal opinions vary about these things – and growing numbers of pastors and teachers would prefer electronic versions of books, anyway. I only hope that the publisher’s decision to begin publishing this series in a cheaper format does not reflect any thinking on their part that the new volumes are less significant contributions to the series! From what I know of Evangelical Press, I trust that this is not the case.

Personal gripes aside, though, this book is in every other way an excellent contribution to this commentary series! In his previous published works, Dr. Waters has consistently demonstrated both his vast knowledge of God’s Word and his pastoral skill in applying Scripture and helping others to understand it. In this book, those same qualities are on full display, presenting a text which is both extremely well-informed and accessible to all mature readers.

The author explains up front the three distinctive features of this commentary. First, it is “relatively brief” (8). Second, it “strives to offer exegesis in the service of exposition,” meaning simply that the primary goal of the commentary is to “elucidate the text” (9). Third, it is “Reformed in its orientation” (9). Though written more for “the person in the pew” than for scholars, all of the most urgent questions about the book of Acts are answered convincingly and succinctly, with ample space given in footnotes for further references to larger, more scholarly works.

In the introduction (of just over 11 pages), the author makes it clear that Luke was the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts (13), that Luke is “the only viable candidate for authorship of Luke-Acts” (15), and that Acts was written sometime between AD 61-100 (16). In discussing the title of the book, he explains that “the apostles are not technically the chief actors of this book. The chief actor is the exalted and reigning Jesus Christ, who has sent his Holy Spirit in power upon the church. The apostles are servants of, witnesses to, and instruments of the Lord Jesus” (17). Waters considers the various suggestions regarding the possible purpose of Luke – Acts, concluding that “Luke has authored both books primarily to edify Christian audiences…” (21). Finally, the author briefly considers the overall flow of Acts, explaining that “there are at least three legitimate and complementary outlines to the book” (21-22), each of which is directly drawn from the biblical text and helps us learn more about Luke’s chief priorities throughout the book.

Throughout the rest of the commentary, the text is divided into brief sections and then studied almost verse-by-verse (considering between one and approximately five verses at a time). Yet, every verse is viewed – as it should be – in light of the surrounding context of the entire book. At the end of each section, brief but stimulating thoughts regarding application of the biblical text are also provided, reminding readers that God’s Word is meant to be not only learned, but also obeyed and lived out on a daily basis.

Rich theological insights may be found on virtually every page of this book – even in regard to topics that might not have previously captured our attention. For example, in his comments on Acts 1:1, Dr. Waters calls attention to the fact that Luke is introducing this book – his second canonical work – by explaining that the first book (the Gospel of Luke) concerns “all the things that Jesus began to do and to teach” (emphasis added). It is clear that Luke intends his readers to recognize that, while the beginning of the teaching and miracles of Jesus were recorded in Luke’s Gospel, the miracles and teaching of Jesus will now be continued for readers in the book of Acts.

However, as we move through the book of Acts, we notice that it is not our risen Savior who is seen doing most of the teaching and healing, but rather his apostles who are increasingly governed and guided by the Holy Spirit. Dr. Waters explains: “Jesus continues to teach and work through the ministry of the apostles and by the Holy Spirit. We are to understand, then, the ministry of the apostles and of the Holy Spirit in this book to be the ministry of the risen, glorified Saviour in heaven” (27). How it should enrich our reading of the book of Acts to simply remember that as the apostles faithfully served Jesus and fulfilled his purposes, it is the very ministry of Jesus being exhibited through their work! In a similar way, of course, our Lord intends that those of us who belong to him should continue to serve as living witnesses of our risen Savior!

Undoubtedly, this excellent book will serve as a fine and very thorough introduction to the book of Acts for generations of believers, and will prove especially useful for teachers and pastors who desire a deeper understanding of this biblical book so that they will be better equipped to then teach it to others. Though this commentary is not really aimed at scholars, I imagine that even biblical scholars would be sure to find some profound and inspiring insights throughout the pages of this book. I offer it my highest recommendation to any who want to become more familiar with the book of Acts – and better equipped to live out the gospel truths which the book proclaims!

 NOTE: I received this book for free from Evangelical Press (via Cross-Focused Reviews) in exchange for my preparation of this honest review of the book. I was not required to write a positive review of the book.

Book Review – “God’s Battle Plan for the Mind” by David W. Saxton

God’s Battle Plan for the Mind (Reformation Heritage Books, 2015) is a compelling call for believers to return to the lost art of biblical meditation, and to recognize this as the chief means of spiritual growth in each of our lives. In these 145 pages, Pastor David Saxton combs deeply through the writings of the Puritans, showing clearly and persuasively that meditation, though largely neglected among believers in our own day, has historically been  regarded as the most important of all the Christian disciplines, as well as one of the chief ways of discerning the spiritual health of a Christian.

In the foreword, Dr. Joel Beeke (the president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary) likens a Christian who fails to meditate on Scripture with a person who is presented with a gourmet meal but is unable to have the joy and benefit of tasting even a single bite for themselves. A similar distinction is made throughout the book, reminding us that it’s not enough to only read or hear God’s Word in a passing manner (though both reading and hearing Scripture are important!), but that we must also be intentional about contemplating that Word for ourselves and applying it directly to our lives.

The author explains that, in many respects, modern Christianity has increasingly become superficial and weak. He adds that we can respond to this growing problem in either one of two ways – we can either “adapt and concede to the reality of anemic Christianity,” or we can “return to true biblical spirituality – a serious focus on putting God’s Word to practice in one’s own experience” (1). This latter response – which is the only God-honoring response for believers – is known as “biblical meditation, or, the doctrine of Christian thinking” (1-2). With this in mind, Saxton explains “The goal of this book is to convince God’s people of the absolute necessity of personal meditation. The book will motivate the believer to begin this work; teach practically how to meditate on divine truth; and guide in right patterns of thinking throughout the day” (2).

The book begins by expressing to readers the vital importance of biblical meditation, explaining, in the words of Thomas Watson, that “Without meditation the truth of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory slippery, and without meditation all is lost; meditation imprints and fastens a truth in the mind…” A further plea comes to us from Richard Baxter, that “if you would but set yourselves to consider of what you hear or read, one line of a chapter, or one sentence of a sermon, would lay you into tears, or make you groan, or at least do more than is now done” (6).

In the Puritan days, biblical meditation was regarded as the “nucleus of the Puritan devotional life, ” the “supreme means of grace,” and “the most important aspect of private Christian devotion” (5). However, it’s even more convicting for us to consider that when the Lord spoke to Joshua before he led God’s people into the Promised Land (and into battle), “that his greatest need was to live by meditating upon God’s word” (7), and that very likely, “David was called a man after God’s own heart because he meditated” (11, emphasis added). With such remarkable God-honoring leaders being led by God into a deeper knowledge of his Word, who are we to regard it with less value in our own lives?

Equally convicting counsel comes on every page of this book! Here, we learn that true meditation is challenging work, requiring both time and effort on our part, though the reward makes it more than worth the effort.  William Bridge highlights this truth as follows: “As it is a soul-satisfying work, so this work of meditation to a gracious soul is a most delightful work. What greater delight than to think on that God in whom he doth most delight?….Though it be hard in regard of its practice, yet it may be sweet and delightful in regard to its profit…” (13).

We also discover that even those of us who’ve not been intentional about meditating on God’s Word have nonetheless practiced meditation. The author writes, “everyone meditates on something. We either learn to practice and benefit from biblical meditation, or we inevitably allow our minds to wander dangerously through sinful or depressing thoughts” (15). More directly, Edmund Calamy chastens his fellow believers for our poorly directed contemplation, first by declaring, “Let us mourn before the Lord that we have misplaced our meditation.” He then instructs, “Now mourn before your God heartily, and go into your closets and bemoan it….You have been meditating all your lives long upon vain things, and have not meditated upon the things of eternity” (16).

After considering further what makes for unbiblical meditation, Saxton looks closely at what God’s Word teaches us about genuine, Christ-glorifying meditation and then turns again to the Puritans, whose comments on these biblical truths continue to enrich our study of this important doctrine. Remaining chapters consider the different types of Christian meditation (occasional and deliberate, with both being important, but daily, deliberate meditation being deemed most crucial by the Puritans), specific counsel regarding how to meditate in a biblical way, the specific benefits of Christian meditation and the “enemies” (such as busy-ness and entertainment) which are most likely to prevent us from meditating on Scripture as Scripture itself (and, of course, Scripture’s divine Author!) instructs us to do.

In every portion of this book, we are lovingly and biblically exhorted to make God’s Word the supreme authority of not only our church lives, but our daily lives as well. We are likewise warned that to neglect to do this makes us (to quote R. Kent Hughes) “Christians without Christian minds, Christians who do not think Christianly” (134). Personally, I have been deeply challenged – by both Saxton and the Puritan authors whose works he quotes – to intentionally carve out more time not only for reading God’s Word, but for meditating on it as well, and I have no doubt that other readers will be similarly convicted and blessed as they read this material for themselves.

On the back cover of the book, an endorsement from John MacArthur encourages that believers should, “…get a copy, read it, put its principles into practice, and ‘be transformed by the renewal of your mind.'” I whole-heartedly agree, and further believe that the church of Jesus Christ will be greatly strengthened and made far less “superficial” as her members read and apply the soul-stirring contents of this book!

NOTE: I received this book for free from Reformation Heritage Books (through Cross-Focused Reviews) in exchange for my preparation of this honest review of the book.  However, I was not required to write a positive review of the book.

Book Review – “Romans 8-16 For You” by Timothy Keller

In this second volume of Pastor Timothy Keller’s study of Romans, he naturally maintains the same approach to the study which was employed in his writing of the first volume, clarifying at the outset that this book “….is not a commentary,” but rather that, “it is an expository guide, opening up the Scriptures and suggesting how they apply to us today” (9). It should come as no surprise to experienced readers of Keller’s work that the book achieves this goal admirably, while offering plenty of inspirational insight and theological “food for thought” to readers.

As in the previous volume, this book is divided into twelve chapters, with each chapter (except the last one) being further divided into two equal “parts” of just over six pages.  The six-page readings certainly help to present this rich material in more manageable portions, but it still strikes me as odd that this content wasn’t simply presented as twenty-three chapters, since that’s essentially what it is.

Keller explains that, while the first half of the book of Romans explains “…the wonderful truths of the gospel: of justification by faith, of union with Christ, of salvation through Christ alone and not through our works,” this second half of the book primarily aims to answer the question, “How does faith in the gospel of Christ actually lead to change in real life?” (7). Keller acknowledges a further division in the book of Romans, between chapters 8-11, explaining the ground of Christian assurance – which Keller defines as solely “the work of his Son on the cross and and work of his Spirit in our hearts” – and chapters 12-16, presenting a theological summary of the Christian life. Regarding this application of the gospel to our lives, the author rightly declares “The believer’s life is to be lived out of gratitude. We live to please our heavenly Father by obeying him, even at cost or inconvenience” (8).

As always, Keller serves as a most helpful guide in our study of the biblical text, not only because of the solid pastoral exposition and application which he offers, but also because he helps us to see the tremendous impact that this portion of Scripture has had on believers throughout history, and the similar impact which it should continue to have in our lives today. As he delves into the biblical text himself, he also provides interaction with past writers such as Augustine, Luther and Calvin, and more recent authors such as John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Throughout this expository guide, Keller helps clarify many difficult subjects about which Christians often get confused, including…..

– Romans 8:28 NOT being intended for every person (45);

– God’s promises to Israel having NOT failed (63);

– Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? (65 ff.);

– Who, precisely, is the “Israel” which will ultimately be saved? (95 ff.);

– How fully should believers submit to their governmental authorities? (129 ff.).

As an additional help for readers, the book also includes a glossary, and two helpful appendices – a summary of Romans 8-16 in outline form, and a thorough discussion of the doctrines of God’s sovereignty and election (two especially challenging subjects for many believers). This study is both concise and exciting, with Keller lovingly navigating his readers through the often frightening waters of this rather heavy theological book, raising nearly all of the same questions that we’re prone to ask as we read this material, and providing sound pastoral responses that are sure to help calm many of our anxieties about the book of Romans. Best of all, he draws attention to all of the major points which are made by the biblical text and gives us good motivation for considering it more fully and applying it more appropriately in our relationship with Christ.

NOTE: I received this book for free from The Good Book Company (through Cross-Focused Reviews) in exchange for my preparation of this honest review of the book.  I was not required to write a positive review of the book.

Book Review – “Bible Revival” by Kenneth Berding

Bible Revival book cover

To begin with, the publisher who has produced this recent work is new themselves, and – based on this work – I imagine that we’ll be hearing about many more exciting books from them in the days to come! Weaver Book Company (not to be confused with Weaver Press, which is based in Zimbabwe) was established in 2013 by Jim Weaver, an established veteran of the Christian academic publishing world, who formerly served such highly respected publishing houses as Baker, Kregel, and Thomas Nelson. His most admirable goal in this new publishing venture is “to take the riches of the academy and make them accessible to the church” (https://www.weaverbookcompany.com/about/history-and-staff) – a goal which I believe is successfully reached in this book.

Bible Revival, by Kenneth Berding, is a short (121 page) and extremely accessible book calling direct attention to the current famine of God’s Word among believers, and reminding us of the vital place that Scripture should have in the life of every believer. In keeping with the goals of both the publisher and the author, this is a practical rather than academic work, obviously written from the perspective of an author who personally loves God’s Word and desires for other believers to do so as well. He hopes to accomplish this by offering us these six chapters, each of which considers one of the major obstacles preventing believers from growing in their knowledge of God’s Word and then offers practical solutions for overcoming these obstacles in our own lives.

From the outset, the undeniable problem is acknowledged:

“Christians used to be known as ‘people of one book.’ Sure, they read, studied, and shared other books. But the book they cared about more than all others combined was the Bible. They memorized it, meditated on it, talked about it, and taught it to others. We don’t do that anymore, and in a very real sense we’re starving ourselves to death.” (16)

Just to make sure that we’re good and convicted about this, though, Berding compares our current situation to similar experiences in the time of the Old Testament writings:

“In the book of Amos, people who experienced a ‘famine of hearing the words of the Lord’ are portrayed as undergoing divine judgment. Amos paints a picture of people without access to God’s revelation searching for a message from God like desperate people – hungry and dehydrated – in search of food and water (Amos 8:11-12). In Amos they want it, but are not permitted it. In our case, although we have unlimited access, we often don’t want it. The irony is intense. Who would deliberately and knowingly put himself under God’s judgment?” (19)

Thankfully, this book is filled with convicting passages like these – which may be just what we need to shake us from our spiritual lethargy and drive us to once again make God’s Word the priority in our lives that it truly needs to be!  Better than merely convicting readers, though, the author also provides us with great wisdom regarding how we should move past all of our various excuses for neglecting God’s Word and restore God’s Word to its rightful place as the authoritative guide for our lives.

In these chapters, we are freshly challenged – and helped – to overcome all of the obstacles that keep us from engaging with God’s Word on a daily basis. These obstacles include distractions and busy-ness (chapter 1), concerns about the Bible’s sufficiency for our lives (chapter 2), the common struggles with understanding, applying, and obeying God’s Word as we should (chapters 3 – 5), and the far too frequent unwillingness to incorporate God’s Word into our daily conversations with others (chapter 6).

In all of these ways, countless believers have allowed God’s Word to become virtually non-existent in their daily lives – especially when they aren’t gathered with the saints for weekly worship. Yet, in these pages, the author reminds us of the Bible’s unswerving insistence that genuine Christ-followers spend significant time encountering God in his written Word, and by the end of the book we have been greatly inspired to do so!

Each chapter concludes with a prayer for God to help us increase our commitment to the Bible, as well as questions for review to help us reflect on what we’ve just read. At the end of the book, there is a helpful appendix to help us learn to better memorize portions of Scripture (a crucial aspect of overcoming biblical illiteracy!), as well as a brief description of a forthcoming program intended to help believers and churches grow in their overall knowledge of the Bible.

Though an easy read and not necessarily filled with vast amounts of “new information”, this book serves as a powerful and inspiring reminder that a significant portion of our lives should be devoted to the reading, studying, memorizing, and applying of God’s Word, and enables us to freshly commit ourselves to setting Scripture as the priority in our lives that it needs to be.  What better purpose could a modern book serve?

NOTE: I received this book for free from Weaver Book Company (through Cross-Focused Reviews) in exchange for my preparation of this honest review of the book.  However, I was not required to write a positive review of the book.

A Sound Response to Some Bad Theology

In case you haven’t heard, popular Christian publishing house Waterbrook Multnomah – under the banner of their liberal publishing line, called “Convergent Books” – has agreed to publish a new book titled God and the Gay Christian, which argues (from a supposedly evangelical perspective) that homosexuality is compatible with biblical faith.  The author, Matthew Vines, is a 24-year-old former Harvard student, and left school in order to delve more deeply into studying this topic for himself.  In this book, he (and apparently the publisher) believe that he has maintained a “high” view of Scripture while showing persuasively why the Bible does not forbid homosexual love.

Thankfully, a team of biblical scholars whose knowledge of God’s Word is (I’m convinced) far more comprehensive and sound has already issued a published response to this controversial new book.  Al Mohler and a team of professors from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have already prepared articles which they’ve made available as a free e-book, titled God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines.  More information about this and a link to the free e-book may be found here – http://us2.campaign-archive1.com/?u=881d5069aff43e94a45316e5f&id=9e655c6155&e=1054bcbc16.

Unfortunately, this conversation isn’t likely to be going away anytime soon.  There will always continue to be some people who insist on twisting and manipulating certain portions of God’s unchanging Word in a desperate attempt to vindicate their own radical positions on moral issues such as this one.  Everybody hopes that they can convincingly show others from the Bible that their own favorite sins aren’t, in fact, sins at all – and homosexual people are no exception to this tendency.   Nonetheless, God has already clearly addressed the subject in his Word, and it’s never our prerogative to alter what he says.  So, shame on Waterbrook Multnomah for publishing such a book in the first place – and special thanks to Dr. Al Mohler and his team at SBTS for responding to it in such a timely, articulate, and biblical way!

Book Review – “Captivated” by Thabiti M. Anyabwile

temporary - captivated book cover Thabiti Anyabwile’s latest work (published by Reformation Heritage Books) is both brief and theologically rich. Here, the author exhorts his readers to temporarily set aside the culturally established dictate that we shouldn’t stare at others, and instead seize this opportunity to “take a long look at Jesus” (1).

He further explains that Scripture itself calls on us to regularly “behold” or “come and see” our glorious Savior – especially when it’s raising profound questions about his crucifixion and resurrection. So, while people in our own day tend to become paranoid if we simply stare at them for too long, this book reminds us that – in Scripture – we are lovingly invited to consider the questions that are raised by and about Jesus, and by doing so to grow in our own love and appreciation for the one who accomplished salvation for all who trust in him.

The five questions that are raised throughout this 95-page book (not counting the last few pages of book advertisements) are as follows:

– “Is there no other way?” (Matthew 26:42)

– “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

– “Where, O Death, is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:50-58)

– “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5)

– “Do you not know these things?” (Luke 24:18)

By contemplating each of these questions in turn, and offering a series of thought-provoking questions for personal reflection at the end of each chapter, the author reminds us that even in the questions of Scripture, God is still teaching us! Indeed, these verses, which are so often read yet so rarely reflected upon, are loaded with theological implications that should help us grow in Christ-likeness as we see what these profound inquiries actually mean for our lives.

When considering the question “Is there no other way?”, which Jesus asks of the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, Thabiti explains that, “As we ponder this question, we find that God’s perfect will accomplishes far more than all our imagined alternatives. A no from God does more for our good than a yes to all our dreams” (6). He then proceeds to offer six biblical reasons why God the Father replied with a “silent no” to the Son, who raised this question to the Father three times while he anticipated his arrest and crucifixion.

One reason, according to Thabiti, is that “The one silent no in Gethsemane resounds in double duty in answer to the centuries-long question of whether God was fair to forgive. The cross proves that God is just in punishing sinners and in forgiving sinners who trust in Jesus Christ” (16-17). He then applies this to believers by reminding us that “Man owes God complete submission to His will. In Gethsemane, the only perfect Man bowed before God and concluded His prayer, ‘Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will’ (Matt. 26:39). Such is the heart mankind should have before God – a heart of complete submission and faith” (18).

When contemplating Jesus’ cry to the Father from the cross – “Why have you forsaken me?” – Thabiti brings us back to the original context of that quote in Psalm 22, where we gain a much clearer understanding of what sorts of painful experiences cause us to feel “forsaken” by God. Specifically, we feel emotionally forsaken by God when our prayers seem to go unanswered (Psalm 22:2-3), when the righteous are forsaken and sinners are delivered (Psalm 22:4-5), when faithfulness seems to be repaid with abandonment (Psalm 22:9-11), and when our enemies seem closer to us than God (Psalm 22:12-21) (31-35). In all of these ways, our Savior experienced desertion from the Father as he hung on the cross, making atonement for sins that he had not committed, as an undeniable display of his love for us.

Truly, this is an inspiring and edifying book, reminding us of God’s amazing love for us as it’s demonstrated most clearly – through the sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. By thoughtfully reading these pages, we should grow in our knowledge and understanding of the gospel, as well as in our love for Christ and in our desire to become more like him so that we, too, may honor God by the choices that we make. Though readers would do well to read this book in any season of the year, I believe it’s ideally suited for use at Easter, when the Resurrection of Christ is most likely to be proclaimed with boldness from even the most timid pulpits!

NOTE: I received this book for free from Reformation Heritage Books (through Cross-Focused Reviews) in exchange for my preparation of this honest review of the book.  I was not required to write a positive review of the book.

Book Review – “Romans 1-7 For You” by Timothy Keller

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In this exciting new addition to the God’s Word For You series, published by The Good Book Company, pastor Timothy Keller offers what he explains is not a commentary, but rather an “expository guide” to the first seven chapters of Romans, intended to serve readers by “opening up the Scripture and suggesting how it applies to us today” (10).  To this opening, he adds, “My prayer is simply that it will help you to, in Luther’s words, ‘break through’: in your understanding of the gospel message; or your experience of the gospel life; or both.”  In my opinion, he achieves his goal well, and offers his readers a tremendous resource for delving more deeply into this (especially) theologically rich portion of Scripture.

Since the book is not a commentary, Keller makes no effort to offer the same level of details regarding contrasting opinions, grammatical analysis, historical background, and theological interpretation that full-length commentaries offer (which is just fine, since there is already a vast multitude of wonderful commentaries on Romans in print), though fortunately, he does offer a very small and manageable amount of all these things in this book.  Clearly, this book is intended for “thinking laypeople” who are ready to dig deeper into God’s Word.  Since there are numerous references to the text and not as many quoted passages, it also seems intended to accompany – rather than replace – the reading of the actual biblical text (a feature which I, as a minister, greatly appreciate!).

It struck me as a bit strange that the book is divided into twelve “chapters”, yet each chapter is further divided into two equal readings (of about six pages each).  Why was it not simply acknowledged that the book actually has twenty-four chapters?  Was it feared that readers would be less drawn to the book if more chapters were listed on the contents page?  Or, were they limited in how many catchy chapter titles they could come up with?  The short readings are nice, of course, but any class or group who is considering using the book to guide their study should know up front they would either need to allow for twenty-four weeks’ worth of conversations, or else double up on the readings each week.

I was also a bit curious about how exactly this book was “edited from the study of Timothy Keller”, as the cover claims (which is different from the “Galatians For You” volume in this same series).  I looked in vain for an “acknowledgments” page, or any other place which explained how Keller originally presented this material, or what process it went through to become published in book form.  The only clue of other people participating in the process at all is the series preface by Carl Laferton, who’s named as the “series editor”.  Still, this doesn’t indicate whether Laferton, or Keller, or some anonymous third person actually crafted the final version what is written for us here.

Still, the book is presented (I think) in a very engaging and readable way, with plenty of inspiring observations throughout the text.  In fact, I have yet to see a more exciting and accessible resource to help lay-level readers genuinely study (and not simply think about) God’s Word – even as challenging a portion of God’s Word as the epistle to the Romans!  Though not aimed at advanced readers, Keller does a wonderful job of concisely answering many of the most commonly raised questions on each passage of Scripture, without venturing so far in his answers as to present any obviously debatable or controversial views on anything.  On the contrary, the comments that are offered by Keller seem to be solidly biblical, and well within the realm of agreement among the vast majority of evangelical Christians.

The one potential “hot topic” that Keller does mention is the so-called “New Perspective on Paul”, which he only discusses for two-and-a-half pages in the final appendix to the book.  While this may be a subject that most readers of this book have never even heard of, and perhaps no interest in (in which case they can ignore the appendix), it is one that is significant since it is being discussed with increasing regularity among scholars and pastors, and which can potentially affect the way that readers understand the writings of Paul.  Fortunately, though, Keller agrees with most evangelical pastors (and myself), concluding that “ultimately, we must still read the book of Romans as Paul’s defense of the gospel of free grace….The new perspective can’t dislodge the classic understanding of Romans” (198).

Other helpful features of the book include a glossary of challenging words (including conversational terms, such as “analogy” and “licentious”, as well as theological terms), a detailed outline of Romans 1-7, a helpful appendix on the theme of “idolatry”, and a recommended bibliography (which includes a diverse list of twenty-three titles, only six of which are commentaries on Romans).  Also, while the text itself is focused on helping readers understand the text of Romans, each of the (twenty-four) sections of the book concludes with relevant and probing “questions for reflection” – questions which are sure to be helpful in understanding how the text directly applies to our lives today.

Though it might seem a bit disappointing that this volume (like other forthcoming volumes in the series) only covers half of a biblical book, I believe that this should be regarded as a strength, rather than a weakness.  Far too often, we try to rush ourselves through books of the Bible, simply so that we can say that we’ve read it, when there is so much benefit to reading the text in smaller and more “digestible” portions, considering more deeply what the text actually means, and reflecting more thoroughly on how our lives should change as a result of what we’ve read.  Perhaps more than any other book in the Bible, Romans is a book that requires some thoughtfulness and reflection from readers – and perhaps better than any previous work, this new book from Timothy Keller should serve as a very helpful guide for the less experienced readers hoping to do so!

NOTE: I received this book for free from The Good Book Company through Cross-Focused Reviews in exchange for my preparation of this honest review of the book.  I was not required to write a positive review of the book.