My SBL Book Picks – Old and New Goodies

Let me say, I got a lot of new books before the conference (Kanagaraj’s John commentary, Moo’s Galatians, The Apocalyptic Paul, the Unrelenting God FS for Gaventa, Gospel Writing, Paul an the Faithfulness of God, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels Reloaded…). But I am pleased with the small collection I picked up at SBL. Here are my book picks in no particular order.

New Books

When God Spoke Greek (T. Michael Law) – it came out in July and has earned a wide readership and much appreciation. Here is a bit about the book. The LXX fascinates me, so I will report back on this in due time.

Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee (Mark Allan Powell). I bumped into Dr. Powell at the book stalls and we had a brief chat. He is such a wonderful person and capable scholar. The first edition was such a hit, and I never owned it. So glad to have the second edition. I particularly like having Powell’s 25-page summary of Wright’s JVG approach to Jesus and the Gospels.

Devotions on the Greek New Testament (ed. Scott Duvall and Verlyn Verbrugge) – this was a “fun” purchase. I think this book has two purposes: (1) to help those who learned Greek in seminary to “stick with it” with this devotional; (2) to promote the importance of the study of the Greek New Testament, since many institutions have moved away from serious language study. It will be fun to read chapters from my friends Roy Ciampa, Ben Witherington, Linda Belleville, Joey Dodson, Dave Matthewson, Lynn Cohick, Joel Willitts, George Guthrie, and a number of other NT scholars.

The Lost World of Scripture (John Walton and Brent Sandy) – this book is a contribution on the perennial “inerrancy” debate and it tries to help modern readers of Scripture see how we have our perspective on the nature of Scripture influenced (even distorted?) by our “book” culture (vs. the ancient oral culture). I have not read the book yet, but I think that is the gist.

He Has Shown You What is Good: Old Testament Justice Here and Now (H.G.M. Williamson). Williamson gave a series of lectures on the OT and justice in the “Trinity Lectures” in Singapore in 2011. They were published in 2012. I am quite interested in anything Biblical scholars do on the subject of social justice, and Dr. Williamson is an eminent OT scholar in any case. It is a short book, but I have already benefited from even the introduction.

Old Books

Paul for Everyone: Galatians and 1 Thessalonians (Tom Wright). I have a couple of Wright’s little commentaries, but I am teaching Galatians this spring and I am working on a commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians, so this is going to be helpful when I think about the substance of these Pauline letters.

1-2 Thessalonians (Victor Furnish). I have long admired Furnish’s work on theology and ethics in Paul. This commentary from Abingdon has been recommended to me by several people, so I am excited to have it in my library now.

The Story of Romans: A Narrative Defense of God’s Righteousness (A. Katherine Grieb). I have seen references to this work so many times, I have long felt it a shame that I hadn’t read it. It has made a big impact for being such a small book.

Still on my list

Roman Imperial Texts: A Sourcebook (Mark Reasoner) – this was too heavy for me to add to my collection of luggage weights, but I plan on ordering it.

What were your favorite book purchases?


What Kind of Souvenirs Do SBL Nerds Like Me Buy?

SouvineersAt first I just bought Wesley, but then I thought about my beloved Reformed friends Dave Briones, Mike Bird, and Dan Gurtner, and I relented and shelled out the extra cash for Calvin (who, you might notice, is considerably smaller and has no legs to stand on – thanks Abingdon for designing these men “true to life”). I have cider in my Aramaic-inscribed Zondervan mug (as far as you know), and I have tea in my Logos Bible Software “bullet-style” thermos. Christmas came early folks!


Hauerwas on Pacifism and the Sermon on the Mount

In a wonderful exposition and summary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s and John Howard Yoder’s readings of the Sermon on the Mount, Stanley Hauerwas makes this statement in view of those who call these two “pacifists.”

Bonhoeffer and Yoder were pacifists, but…this description is inadequate. ‘Pacifism’ suggests a position that can be abstracted from what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Bonhoeffer and Yoder understand nonresistance to be the refusal to respond to evil in kind, but to resist evil by using the weapons provided by the Sermon on the Mount. (Sermon on the Mount through the Centuries, p. 221).

And, Christian love for others (even the enemy) is one of the most powerful “weapons” in our arsenal. One of Hauerwas’ sticking points in his essay is that both of these interpreters of Matthew have concern that the church of Jesus Christ must become “a visible alternative to the world” (p 222).

Has DJ Moo now written the #1 Galatians commentary of all time?

MooThis morning I was so delighted to see this book in my office mailbox. I am teaching exegesis of Galatians next semester and I can’t wait to dig into this commentary  – will it live up to Frank Thielman’s stunning endorsement – “Douglas Moo has written the single best commentary now available on Galatians”? Perhaps this will be said of “old-perspective-evangelical” commentaries. I am having my students read Richard Hays’ too-often neglected NIB commentary on Galatians (as well as Rosner’s new Paul and the Law).

I have always found Moo to be a more balanced and irenic scholar than many of those who are anti-New-Perspective-on-Paul. However, he recently wrote some things about belief and faith language in the NT (in the FS for Beale) that I found very problematic. So, I am eager to hear more from Moo in this exegetical volume.

Last thing – while I have found the BEC series “mixed” in terms of quality and good scholarship, there are a few outstanding volumes – 1 Corinthians (Garland) is one of the best pieces of scholarship on that epistle. I have also appealed to Karen Jobes’ work on 1 Peter on many occasions.

Craig Keener responds to MacArthur in a masterful review

About a month ago, I started to see chatter on Facebook about John MacArthur’s new book Strange Fire which criticizes the charismatic Christian movement en toto. Even before the book was released, I began to see reviews (from those who obtained pre-published copies, I assume). What I read about MacArthur’s unrelenting condemnation of charismatics was disturbing to say the least. I went to seminary with plenty of charismatic friends, I teach many such students now, and I just spoke at an AG youth worker’s summit and I had a wonderful time with them. (Also, I may be Gordon Fee’s biggest fan.)

So, it struck me that someone in the Biblical Studies realm needs to read this book and give a lengthy, serious critique that separates MacArthur’s legitimate concerns from his problematic generalizations and weak arguments. So, I emailed Craig Keener (Asbury Seminary). Craig put my heart at ease and assured me that this was on his radar.

Well, I am thankful to tell you that the website has published Craig’s review  and Craig pulled out all the stops to produce a 15-page review! It is mature and incisive, and Craig is far more gracious in listing positive aspects of the book than I would naturally be. But, to whet your appetite for Craig’s concerns, here is a snippet (caveat – this is taken out of context, but I still think it helpfully representative of concerns many good Biblical scholars do or will have with the book):

Although I never watch horror movies, for once I think I can identify with the thrill some people get from watching them. Reading MacArthur’s astonishingly broadbrushed condemnation of all charismatic experience was so over the top that I would have been tempted to find it entertaining were it not for the tragic likelihood that some readers will accept it uncritically. (As noted below, he does make exceptions for some of his friends, but treats them as idiosyncratic and seemingly as exceptions that prove the rule; e.g., 235.)

MacArthur’s aim is so scattershot that he unknowingly blasts even many of his fellow critics of excess. He practices guilt-by-association in such an indiscriminate way, and sometimes with such limited research, that some will be tempted to charge him with slandering fellow believers. The biblical foundations for his defense of hard cessationism are so fragile that they barely warrant me squandering space to critique it in this review

Getting Serious about the Sermon on the Mount

Tonight I begin teaching an exegesis course on the Gospel of Matthew. Next week especially we will be getting serious about the Sermon on the Mount. I have spent several weeks reading and thinking about the SM. How deep and rich! But a complex arena of study, as the mountain (!) of literature on it suggests. Where to look for help!? Obviously you can turn to some of the great Bible dictionaries (including Dictionary of Jesus & the Gospels 2.0), but here are my top 10 suggestions (in no particular order).

#1: The Cost of Discipleship (Bonhoeffer) – I shouldn’t need to say more, because his work is so well known, but make sure you get a sense for his life and his times before or while you read this theological gem.

#2: The Sermon on the Mount (Scot McKnight) – this commentary, still pretty hot off the press, is challenging and rich with insight. Scot has read broadly and thought deeply.

#3: The Sermon on the Mount Through the Centuries (Greenman, Larsen, and Spencer) – coming out of a Wheaton conference, this volume has a number of modern scholars walk you through important interpreters of SM (e.g., Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Bonhoeffer, Stott, Pope John Paul II). We are using this as a textbook, and it is very helpful to see how the SM has shaped so many Christian thinkers.

#4: The Sermon on the Mount (Dale Allison) – Allison does a great job of setting the SM within its Matthean context.

#5: God With Us: A Pastoral Theology of Matthew’s Gospel (Mark Allan Powell) – Powell has a chapter on why teaching is so important for the Church, and how the SM reinforces this. And, teaching is not just doctrines and Bible trivia – the SM deals with life, piety, social concerns, and everyday discipleship.

#6: Jesus and the Victory of God (NT Wright) – Wright has a short section on SM, but argues that the SM is not an easter-teaching first pitched to the church. It makes good sense as a teaching by Jesus to his disciples and the crowds as a new calling for Israel to reclaim her mission now that the messiah has come.

#7: Kingdom Ethics (Stassen, Gushee)  – a wonderful and thorough exploration of how the spirit of the SM can guide Christian ethics.

#8: The Moral Vision of the NT (Richard Hays) – a short, but insightful chapter on Matthew as “training for the kingdom of heaven” where SM gets some treatment.

#9: Getting ‘Saved’ (Charles Talbert and Jason Whitlark) – Talbert has a nice chapter on “Indicative and Imperative in Matthean Soteriology” in here. Not sure if I agree, but makes a strong case for a Matthean theology of grace and divine empowerment that enables obedience.

#10: Last, but not least, an article by Jack D. Kingsbury, “The Place, Structure, and Meaning of the Sermon on the Mount within Matthew” Interp 41.2 (1987): 131-143. An inspiring and cogent interpretation. Here is a quote from Kingsbury in response to those that say it is an impossible ethic in the SM.

…the determining factor for him [Matthew] is the reality of God’s eschatological kingdom, or rule, which is present even now in the earthly and risen Jesus Son of God. For disciples who live in the sphere where God rules through the risen Jesus, doing the greater righteousness is the normal order of things. Until the consummation, disciples will, to be sure, have to contend with the shadows that invade this normal order, with sin and little faith. But this notwithstanding, they are indeed summoned to be the kind of person Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount, the kind of person who loves God perfectly and the neighbor as the self” (143).


Evangelical Theology – the Gospel Word from the Bird

I had a dream one night that I had book contracts to  write both a systematic theology textbook and also a commentary on Romans (two of the most serious challenges a Christian scholar might face in his or her career). I turned and looked in the mirror and saw red hair – for I had become Michael F. Bird.

No, not really. But I am delighted there are people in the world like Mike who feel comfortable in the Biblical Studies world as well as the theology world. And I am honored to have Zondervan send me his Evangelical Theology to review.

By now there are several reviews finished or started on the web, so I won’t try to be comprehensive here. The bottom line for me is that this is the first thing I would mention to anyone who asked me to recommend a systematic theology. When I was in seminary, I found the pick of systematic theologies woefully inadequate and they talked about theology in such stale and confusing ways. Mike’s approach is clear and engaging, and offers the best reflections from Biblical Studies and systematic (and historical and cultural) theology.

You may already know that the way Mike approaches an “Evangelical Theology” is by focusing on the “Evangel,” the Gospel. Here is his definition:

The gospel is the announcement that God’s kingdom has come in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord and Messiah, in fulfillment of Israel’s Scriptures. The gospel evokes faith, repentance, and discipleship; its accompanying effects include salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit (52).

This is a wonderful way to proceed with a systematic theology. I am not sure it is infused in every part of the theology, but it is there enough to make it distinctive. Bravo!

Truth be told, I did not read every single word of the book of 900+ pages, but I read bits that were most interesting to me. From the portions I read (and a glance at the indexes), I noted that the greatest influences on Mike evident in the work are: Augustine, Barth, Calvin, Millard Erickson, Michael Horton, Thomas Schreiner, Kevin Vanhoozer, and (last but not least) N.T. Wright.

How shall we proceed with my own reflections? I thought it appropriate to refer to what I thought was Groovy and Not-So-Groovy.


1. The book is just a lot of fun. I laughed. I cried (at his Calvinism). I ate popcorn. I said a prayer. I fell asleep. It fell on me.

Seriously, though, it is a very engaging textbook with great excurses and charts. The outline is clear and the topics flow very smoothly. It would be easy to organize a course around the book sections.

2. Mike’s discussion about his “doctrine of Scripture”:

“In my thinking, a doctrine of Scripture should not be a locus of its own. Such a doctrine stands somewhere between ecclesiology and pneumatology, or between church and Spirit, in terms of its appropriate place in a Christian theology” (196)

3. Mike offers a very groovy summary of Richard Hays’ reasons why we need “apocalyptic eschatology” (241-243).

4. Mike has a discussion of “cool internet resources” (291)

5. Mike quotes Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (301)

6. Mike argues that Jesus is a theologian. He also says that the epistles, Acts, and Revelation could be called the “Jesus Festschrift” (381)

7. Mike’s discussion of models of atonement is the best I have seen. See the handy charts on 410 and also 421. Every time I teach on the atonement I will appeal to this.

8. I love Mike’s explanation of the Christological heresy of the Monophysites: “two natures in a blender Christology” (483).

9. Mike’s work on ecclesiology is reason enough to get the book. He presses for the evangelical world to have a strong sense of the church’s identity and mission.


1. Perhaps the biggest concern I have with Mike’s textbook is that I couldn’t quite see where “ethics” and “redemptive living” fit into his framework. There is no specific category for it. Something like ethics gets into his order of salvation vis-a-vis regeneration and sanctification, but this can come off as very individualistic. His discussion of the life and mission of the church is better on the concern for the life lived, but it did not come across as distinctive of a Gospel theology.

2. In relationship to the above, I was not that excited about his short discussion of the final judgment of believers. He takes a Schreiner-ian stance, I think: “Good works demonstrate the necessary evidences of a saving faith in the Savior” (303), where works are demonstrations of faith. But, if this is so, why not judge the “faith,” why judge the works at all (especially if God knows our hearts)? Perhaps this is explained by his statement that judgment will determine “how successfully believers have cooperated with his grace of renewal” (303). I think this gets closer to a helpful answer, but, again, it can come across as very individualistic (as if renewal and sanctification is about me and Jesus) – what about the Christian and the Church’s worldwide mission? Are we not held accountable because the world needs our works? I wish Mike had done a better job wedding his judgment-theology with his robust ecclesiology.

3. I found the discussion of hell to be too systematic. Imagine my surprise when Mike starts talking about two separate sheols in the OT, one for saints and one for the wicked; and then later in salvation history the saints go with Jesus and the bad sheol gets dumped into hell. Don’t get me wrong, this is the kind of thing systematicians do (so Mike’s discussion may be par for the course), but I just don’t see how it can be worked out in that way with that level of detail (and a timeline with pictures!). Also, you might not be surprised that Mike defends a traditional view of eternal damnation in hell for the wicked, but I was not satisfied with his short dismissal of annihilationism, and I wish he had brought in C.S. Lewis’ mature and rewarding thoughts on the language of the “eternality” of hell that comes from The Problem of Pain. I know you can’t expect a theologian to talk about everything, but — for me — Lewis’ approach ties up a lot of philosophical and moral loose ends. (Also, Mike – leave Rob Bell out of the book; in five years when this textbook is being used regularly across the world students are going to read your book and ask “Who’s Rob Bell?”)

Last Word

Please don’t take my few negative comments as the last word. My last word is that this is a better read than any other theology textbook I have read. Mike is humble, clear, entertaining, balanced, and studied. He is thoroughly evangelical, but cites and works with anyone that offers something useful (like Moltmann). If someone asked me if Mike’s Evangelical Theology was groovy or not-groovy, I publicly state now that I dubbeth it groovy – indeed.