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Book Notice – Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook (Richard A. Taylor)

Richard A. Taylor. Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook (Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016. 208 pp. $21.99.

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature is the latest volume from Kregel Academic’s Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis series, which offers a basic introduction to exegesis and proclamation of different genres of OT texts. The purpose of this volume is fourfold: to 1) provide an introduction to Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic literature; 2) situate OT apocalyptic literature within the context of ancient apocalyptic thought; 3) provide guidelines for interpreting this genre; and 4) provide a sample treatment of two OT apocalyptic texts.

Chapter 1 provides an introduction to apocalyptic literature, addressing renewed scholarly interest in this genre (with a note on Kasemann), distinguishing helpfully between apocalypse, apocalypticism, and apocalyptic literature, tracing the development of Jewish apocalyptic literature, and sketching the social world behind the literature. Chapter 2 addresses major themes in apocalyptic literature, dealing with major texts and then the genre as a whole. For Old Testament Prophets, a bit more attention is devoted to Daniel than the rest of the texts (which makes sense given the scope and aims of this book), summarizing its message, purpose, major themes, and structure. Then quick overviews are provided for Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Joel, Malachi. For extrabiblical texts, a brief introduction to types of apocalypses is first provided before surveying each of the five parts of 1 Enoch, then 2 Enoch, Jubilees, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, Apocalypse of Abraham, Testament of Levi, Testament of Abraham, Apocalypse of Zephaniah, and Testament of Moses. Then Taylor addresses the question of whether Qumran was an apocalyptic community and surveys a few DSS texts with apocalyptic elements (Community Rule, War Scroll, and New Jerusalem. Chapter 2 concludes with some general characteristic features (revelatory content, dreams and visions, pseudonymous authorship, hiddenness and secrecy, and pervasive symbolism) and major themes (developed angelology, ethical dualism, deterministic outlook, imminent crisis, faithful remnant, divine judgment, and eschatological hope) of the genre of apocalyptic literature.

Chapter 3 focuses on the book of Daniel (since it contains the only true apocalypse in the OT) to address the issue of how to prepare to interpret apocalyptic texts, noting key exegetical procedures and tools . Taylor covers figurative language, reception history, the issue of bilingualism in Daniel and textual criticism,working with original languages, and benefiting previous scholarship. He provides an annotated bibliography of OT textual criticism, Bible software, lexical resources, grammatical resources for Hebrew as well as Aramaic, and primary and secondary sources for the study of apocalyptic literature. In chapters 4 and 5 Taylor addresses guidelines for interpreting and proclaiming apocalyptic literature, respectively. Finally, Chapter 6 models the process that has been taught in the rest of the book by working through Daniel 8:1-27 and Joel 2:28-32.

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature is an excellent guide to exegeting and preaching apocalyptic (and proto-apocalyptic) OT texts. It provides a valuable (albeit brief) introduction to the genre and sketches the Second Temple Jewish context, situating OT apocalyptic literature within the broader world in which it was birthed. I think this would be a great text for upper level bible college and introductory seminary OT courses. It would also be a great resource for self-learners unfamiliar with the genre (for whom the annotated bibliographies in chapter 3 would be particularly valuable), especially those with regular opportunities to preach.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Amazon

 

 

A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament (Charles Lee Irons)

Charles Lee Irons. A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016. 608 pp. $39.99.

syntax-guideEarlier this year I read the published form of Irons’s doctoral dissertation, The Righteousness of God: A Lexical Examination of the Covenant-Faithfulness Interpretation (review forthcoming) and have been excited about his second book, A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament (hereafter “A Syntax Guide“), ever since I heard that it was in the works. This is an utterly unique resource; while there are several different reader’s GNTs that present difficult/rare vocabulary with the biblical text, prior to A Syntax Guide there was no one-volume tool that helps intermediate Greek students navigate the intermediate and advanced syntactical features of the entire GNT (although, of course, there are two excellent serial guides to the GNT: the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament and B&H Academic’s Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament).  As Irons writes in the introduction, this syntax guide picks up where other tools leave off and s designed to “provide concise notes enabling the reader to make sense of the Greek text at a level of linguistic communication one step higher than the word to the syntactical level of the phrase, clause, or sentence” (7).

While A Syntax Guide sometimes provides lexical information, parsing, text-critical information (for significant variants), and limited exegesis, the focus is syntactical, clause-level features. Categories of usage are mainly those in BDF and Wallace. While some might criticize Irons for using traditional categories enumerated by outdated grammars, he defends his choice in light of the fact that reference grammars based on insights of modern linguistics have yet to be published. One aspect that I find a bit odd is that often a common English translation (e.g. NASB, ESV, NIV) is provided with no additional notes. For a beginning exegesis student even notes of categories of usage would be more helpful than a translation. Below are two examples of notes from 1 Peter, the first  representative of the shortest type of note and the second representative of the most in-depth:

1:9| σωτηρίαν is in apposition to τὸ τέλος

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One could quibble about the conciseness of some of the notes or disagree with some of the exegetical decisions; I even read one review that criticized A Syntax Guide saying that most of this information can be found elsewhere. But this criticism is missing the point of what this volume is intended to be. Sure, if one is doing an in-depth study of a passage or book and consulting reference grammars, Greek handbooks, technical commentaries, etc., then one probably wouldn’t find additional information in A Syntax Guide. But this guide is designed to facilitate reading, for one of the most important ways for beginning/intermediate students to improve their Greek is by consistently reading through large chunks of text. And it’s easy to lose steam in reading if one has to constantly flip through a number of reference books to understand the text.

So while there are elements that can be criticized about A Syntax Guide, at the end of the day there is simply nothing like it. In a volume roughly the same dimensions as the GNT, A Syntax Guide goes verse-by-verse through the GNT providing concise notes on the most important syntactical features. This is a valuable tool for all who are at the intermediate level in NT Greek and want to keep/improve their Greek, from Bible college and seminary students to pastors and laypeople. I will be using A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament as I read through the GNT in 2017.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Amazon

A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles (Kregel Exegetical Library) – Eugene H. Merrill

Eugene H. Merrill. A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles (Kregel Exegetical Library). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015. 640 pp. $39.99.

chronOne-year Bible reading plans that don’t die in Leviticus most likely meet their demise in 1 Chronicles, with its nine opening chapters of genealogies. Preachers don’t often tackle 1 and  2 Chronicles, either. For these very neglected books, Eugene Merrill’s commentary in the Kregel Exegetical Library is a great historical, theological, and exegetical guide  for the academically oriented lay-person, preacher. Seminary students, scholars, and higher-level laypeople will probably want a more technical commentary.

The 50-page introduction is robust and goes beyond typical introductory issues such as authorship, genre, and historical/cultural context. Merrill comments on the canonical placement of these books, noting that it “is in keeping with the notion propounded in this work that the major objective of the Chronicler was to provide a theological interpretation of Israel’s past interlaced with great hope for an eschatological renewal of the Davidic house, one bound to Yahweh its God by an indissoluble new covenant” (46). He dedicates several pages to the historiographical issues in Chronicles and addresses, among others, the problem of differences between Chronicles and the “Deuteronomic History.” Merrill also provides an introduction to text-critical issues of Chronicles, and these are noted throughout the commentary proper. Another notable section of the introduction is the one on the theology of the book; here, Merrill provides overviews of the house of David, the renewed covenant, and the restored temple.

Each section of the commentary proper begins with the text in the NIV, a few key text-critical notes (from the ones I looked at, they are what you can get from the BHS critical apparatus), and then a brief exposition. Most of the notes I read were exposition rather than exegesis; there is a lot of summarization and provision of context and less exegetical work. Most of the treatments are rather brief, with commentary taking up about the same amount of space as the translation (if the English text had not been included I would guess that this volume would only be about 1/3 the length!). Scattered throughout the commentary are twelve brief excurses addressing topics such as the Angel of YHWH, Holy War, and OT historiography, as well as nine theological discourses addressing the theology of the genealogies, the rise of David, the exploits of David, the royal succession, Solomon’s temple, as well as the divided kingdom.

This is a good conservative commentary for your typical person-in-the-pew as well as for preachers. I think one of its unique strengths is its attention to theology; this comes out in the introduction, commentary proper, as well as theological discourses. Unlike other volumes in the series that have homiletical helps, Merrill’s is less attuned to application. A major weakness for me is that this commentary is not as exegetical as I would have expected based on the fact that it’s in an exegetical series. The commentary sections are also often quite brief. Seminarians will definitely (and perhaps preachers as well!) need more technical and robust commentaries on 1 and 2 Chronicles.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Amazon

A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament (Philip Comfort)

Philip Wesley Comfort. A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015. 416 pp. $29.99

comfort manuscriptsWell-known NT text critic Philip Comfort’s latest offering, A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament, is an essential resource for those interested in NT textual criticism. It’s likely designed to appeal especially to those who primarily read and study the NT in Greek because it has the same dimension as the UBS and NA. However, it’s also accessible to those with little or no Greek skills because the Scriptures are presented in English and Greek, when used, is transliterated. If you find yourself wanting more detail when consulting the critical apparatus of your GNT, this book is for you. If you find yourself wanting to know more when the footnote of your English Bible discusses other manuscripts, this book might be for you.

Comfort begins with a brief introduction in which he notes the main unique features of this commentary. One is that the commentary is on actual manuscripts. Another feature found in no other commentary is the attention paid to nomina sacra.Words almost always written as nomina sacra  are noted in the rare instances when they are not written as such; nomina sacra written in full to indicate human rather than divine are noted throughout; titles such as “Son of God”, “Son of Man”, and “Son of David” when written as nomina sacra are noted. After the introduction, Comfort presents a list of the earliest manuscript(s) for each chapter of the NT. Chapter One provides a helpful introduction to NT textual criticism covering topics such as papyri, nomina sacra, and establishing the text of the NT. Chapter 2 provides an annotated list of NT manuscripts, and the rest of the book goes through the NT books chapter by chapter, noting and commenting on the major textual variants. The book concludes with an appendix that provides more in-depth information about nomina sacra, noting each one used in the NT and its significance.

A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament is an excellent supplementary reference resource for those interested in NT textual criticism. It’s certainly helpful, but I wouldn’t consider it essential. While there are points where it addresses variants not covered in the NA28 critical apparatus and/or Metzger’s textual commentary, and while the emphasis on nomina sacra is unique and extremely beneficial, often the comment on a particular verse really doesn’t provide  more information than the critical apparatus in your GNT. Since I’m studying Colossians this semester in my Greek exegesis course, I’ll illustrate by way of an example from this epistle: the textual variants for the end of 2:2. The top image is from my NA28, and the bottom image is from Comfort’s new commentary.

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Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Amazon

Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King (Bateman, Bock, & Johnston)

Herbert W. Bateman IV, Darrell L. Bock, and Gordon H. Johnston. Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2012. 528 pp. $36.99.

Jesus the MessiahIn Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, three leading biblical scholars bring their differing expertise to provide a survey of “contextual-canonical, messianic, and christological developments of God’s promise of ‘Messiah’ within the larger framework and unfolding of Jewish history in canonical and extracanonical literature” (20). Gordon Johnson covers the Hebrew Bible, Herbert Bateman IV covers intertestamental literature, and Darrell Bock covers the NT. By using the Hebrew Scriptures as the starting point, Jesus the Messiah already differs significantly from certain streams in biblical scholarship that ignore Jesus’s Jewishness and view him primarily through Graeco-Roman lenses (e.g. John Dominic Crossan). However, their approach has a significant difference from others that see the foundational value of the Hebrew Scriptures as well: in distinction from Evangelicals who use a single reading strategy and see direct prophecies in many OT texts, Bateman et al. argue that “these texts do not need to be only direct prophecies for them to reveal a messianic connections [sic] and fulfillment in Jesus…while the wording is ultimately messianic, it is often more implicitly stated and becomes clearer only as the entirety of God’s portrait of messiah is eventually and fully disclosed” (25, italics original).

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40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

John S. Hammett. 40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015. 336 pp. $21.99.

40 Q B&LSThough baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been almost universal practices among Christians throughout the ages, disagreements about what they mean and how they are to be practiced are littered across church history and continue into our day. While there is a healthy ecumenism concerning these topics among evangelicals today, it would be unhealthy to assume that these so-called second order doctrines are not important to Christian theology and practice.

Indeed, the importance of these two topics is thankfully recognized as recent years have seen a number of books addressing them (e.g. Understanding Four Views on Baptism and Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper). One might ask why 40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper is necessary when there are already a handful of books that address the key issues related to these two sacraments. The author John Hammett (professor of systematic theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) addresses this in his introduction, noting four ways this book is unique: it addresses both baptism and the Lord’s supper, whereas most books deals with just one of the two; it covers a much wider range of topics; it addresses practical issues; and the table of contents lists each of the forty questions, providing a helpful reference for readers who want to look up specific issues.

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Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook (Gary V. Smith)

Gary V. Smith. Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014. 224 pp. $22.99

Interpreting the Prophetic BooksThe Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis from Kregel Academic is a six-volume series (with two volumes yet to be released) designed primarily to help seminary students and pastors exegete and preach from the Old Testament. Each volume covers one of the major genres found in the OT (narrative, law, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, and apocalyptic) and follows a similar six-chapter structure from introducing the genre all the way to putting together a sermon. In the latest addition to the series, Gary V. Smith offers a primer on interpreting the prophetic books of the OT.

The first chapter provides an orientation to the genre of prophetic literature by providing an overview of the three temporal categories of prophecy (narrative, eschatological, and apocalyptic) and the genres according to which prophecies in these three categories were organized (judgment speech, covenant lawsuit, trial speech, disputation, oracle against foreign nations, woe oracle, summons to repent, salvation oracle, proclamation of salvation, sign acts, hymns, and visions). Because most prophecies are written in the form of poetry, Smith also spends some time on two key characteristics of Hebrew poetry: parallelism and imagery. Chapter 2 briefly highlights the main themes of each prophetic book and notes the common themes across the entire genre (e.g. God’s wisdom and sovereignty, His covenant relationship with Israel, oracles of judgment and promises of salvation, the coming Messianic King, and the eschatological day of the Lord). In chapter 3, Smith introduces the basic skills and tools necessary to prepare for faithful interpretation of the prophetic books. He provides an overview of the historical setting, introduces the false prophecies of the ancient Near East, and briefly addresses how to use textual criticism and biblical commentaries.

With the preliminary groundwork in place, the next chapter provides an overview of the interpretive process, focusing on six key interpretive issues in prophetic texts that deal with the future: whether a text is literal or metaphorical, whether it’s limited by its context, whether it’s conditional or unconditional, whether it’s about the near or far future, difficulties between a prophecy and its fulfillment in the NT, and the difficulty of some prophecies not being fulfilled. Next, chapter 5 addresses sermon preparation, discussing “how we can systematically move from an inspired prophetic message to an inspirational sermon that will change the lives of people today” (143-144). Finally, chapter 6 provides two examples to demonstrate how the process taught in this book work practically. Here Smith takes first Isaiah 31:1-9 and then Jeremiah 23:1-8, working step by step through the process outlined in the previous chapter.

Interpreting the Prophetic Books is a helpful primer on studying and preaching/teaching the  prophetic books. For those unfamiliar with this portion of the canon and/or the process from study to sermon, this book provides a helpful guide to the main features of the genre of prophecy, key tools for interpretation, and a step-by-step guide to crafting a sermon. It’s an excellent guide for the beginning Bible student/teacher/preacher as well as the layperson serious about studying the Bible. Those more advanced will likely not pick up any new insight and will at many points long for more detail and depth. But the book cannot be faulted for brevity since the aim of the series is to provide short introductory handbooks. Nevertheless, the brevity is especially stark in this volume since it covers such a huge portion of the OT (17 books!) in around 200 pages, whereas the other volumes in the series cover much fewer books.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Amazon

 

 

40 Questions about Creation and Evolution

Kenneth F. Keathley and Mark F. Rooker. 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014. 432 pp. $23.99.

40QOne of the most controversial and divisive intra-evangelical debates is in the area of origins. At the extremes, Young-Earth Creationists (YECs) can think that Old-Earth Creationists (OECs) and theistic evolutionists have a low view of Scripture and are at risk of compromising the gospel; OECs and theistic evolutionists can think YECs are not using their brains and have a faulty literalistic hermeneutic. Most frequently books on origins are written from a certain perspective and/or address one (or a few) subtopic(s), and often books on origins increase misunderstanding and further the divide between the main camps (the several multiview books in this area are, of course, exceptions to the latter statement). In 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution, Kenneth Keathley and Mark Rooker provide a balanced, fair, and scholarly yet accessible introduction to all the main issues surrounding the topic of origins.

Keathley and Rooker are both professors at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, with the former identifying as OEC and the latter identifying as YEC. Though conservative, Keathley and Rooker do not succumb to some of the pitfalls of conservative books on origins. They are fair and nuanced in their presentation and assessment of other views and rarely cast other positions as automatically outside the bounds of orthodoxy. This can be seen in their approach in Question 38, “Can Christians Hold to Theistic Evolution?” They note famous Christian leaders past and present who embraced theistic evolution, such as B. B. Warfield, C. S. Lewis, and Tim Keller. However, they emphatically affirm the importance of an historical Adam and Eve and present this as the litmus test for any model that tries to integrate Genesis 1-3 with the findings of modern science (378).  They do note that while there are serious and detrimental consequences to denying an historical Adam and Eve, they do not doubt the commitment to Christ of those who do so, such as Lamoureux and Giberson. After surveying three positions held by evolutionary creationists who affirm an historical Adam, Keathley and Rooker note both evangelicals (who affirm inerrancy) who affirm evolutionary creationism (such as Bauer) and those who contend that it is not a viable option for evangelicals (e.g. Grudem). While noting the theological concerns and hermeneutical challenges of evolutionary creationism, the authors recognize that believing scientists “are followers of Christ who desire to be faithful to the gospel by working with integrity within their scientific vocations” (385).

Structurally 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution is broken into six parts: the doctrine of creation (4 questions), creation and Genesis 1-2 (6 questions), the days of creation (6 questions), the age of the earth (6 questions), the fall and the flood (9 questions), and evolution and intelligent design (9 questions). This is an excellent introduction to the topic of origins that interacts with the best of biblical scholarship and scientific views. While solidly evangelical with a commitment to biblical inerrancy, the authors are not overly dogmatic and are irenic and fair in their presentation of other views. I highly recommend this book as an introduction to the topic of origins, but especially to those who hold to conservative views on the matter. Not only do you come away from the book with a broader and deeper understanding of the topic in general and the main points of debate, but you also gain a greater appreciation for the other sides. Often conservative literature paints a picture of OECs and evolutionary creationists that tries to make you question their faith and commitment to Christ; this book helps you see that it’s possible for those on the other sides of the debates to affirm inerrancy and have a genuine devotion to Christ and commitment to the gospel.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Amazon

 

A Commentary on Exodus (Duane Garrett)

Duane A. Garrett. A Commentary on Exodus (Kregel Exegetical Library). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014. 752 pp. $39.99.

Kregel ExodusIn the latest volume of the Kregel Exegetical Library series, SBTS professor Duane Garrett provides a commentary on Exodus with distinctive features that fills a gap in the existing pool of fine commentaries on the book of Exodus. In his preface Garrett mentions six key approaches in this volume:

  1. provide a short, basic introduction to Egyptian history, culture, language, and geography in order to help readers appreciate the context of the biblical story
  2. convey the state of scholarly debate over the crucial historical questions in the book of Exodus in an even-handed way
  3. illustrate the importance of analyzing the biblical text on a clause-by-clause basis by translating every clause on a separate line
  4. demonstrate that Exodus contains a series of poems and show why it matters
  5. provide a useful commentary for pastors and teachers that still addresses technical issues by confining most of the technical discussion to footnotes
  6. exegete the text as a Christian theologian by connecting the book of Exodus to the New Testament as well as Christian doctrine.

Garrett’s commentary begins with a detailed 131-page introduction that addresses the sources and composition of Exodus, provides an overview of the text of Exodus including text-critical issues, and explains his translation procedure. Garrett then provides a fairly in-depth introduction (for a biblical commentary) to the history and culture of ancient Egypt covering the land, chronology and history, and language. Next Garrett spends considerable time on the date of the exodus, examining the biblical data and historical evidence for the Late Date and the Early Date, covering a few other related issues (the store cities of Raamses and Pithom, the archaeology of Canaan, Jericho, and Hazor), noting two eccentric theories from respected scholars that are instructive though implausible (the Speos Artemidos inscription and the Siversten Hypothesis), and briefly examining a few chronological conundrums related to the price of a slave, ruling pharaohs. The section on dating ends with a caveat on early biblical chronology (the numbers “are correct in asserting what they actually meant, and this is not necessarily the same as what we think they meant, p. 93) and a brief look at a “Very Early Date” and a “Very Late Date.” Next, Garrett addresses the historicity of the exodus. In summing up this lengthy section, Garrett contends that “The exodus, we may be sure, did happen as described in the Bible. On the other hand, we must be humble about our ability to assign it to a specific date” (101). Garrett then provides a lengthy discussion on the location of the Yam Suph and of Mt. Sinai, an outline of Exodus with a structure comprising seven major divisions, and finally, a discussion on the message of Exodus and its place in Old Testament theology.

The commentary proper goes passage by passage providing a few brief sentences by way of introduction, a translation with a clause per line, an outline and comments on the structure of the passage, verse-by-verse commentary, and theological summary of key points. As mentioned above, technical discussions are mainly in footnotes so that the preacher or teacher preparing a sermon or Bible study is able to get the main points about the text as well as key theological points without getting bogged down by overly technical details. This commentary on Exodus is a superb volume for evangelicals and is especially suited for ministry use.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

Book Review – Urban Apologetics: Why the Gospel is Good News for the City (Christopher Brooks)

Christopher W. Brooks. Urban Apologetics: Why the Gospel is Good News for the City. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014. 176 pp. $16.99.

Urban ApologeticsI have had a passion for apologetics for as long as I’ve been a Christian; this is probably mainly due to the fact that I was a staunch atheist my whole life prior to the Lord radically saving me during my undergraduate studies. I had to wrestle immediately with all the intellectual problems I had personally had with theism in general and Christianity specifically, and coupled with my immediate passion for evangelism, I soon found that my own inquiries were very helpful for my witnessing relationships. I didn’t realize at the time that this is because I was in a highly intellectual environment (which had been my general context my whole life). I know how to navigate conversations with explicitly non/anti-Christian people who bring up the expected objections concerning cosmology, the veracity of Scripture, the deity of Christ, etc…but how do you do evangelism in a context in which most profess to be Christian, where intellectual/philosophical objections are generally absent but a whole host of Lordship issues are present that have you wondering whether someone’s really “saved”?

Given this background, I’m sure it’s entirely obvious why I gravitated toward this new book, Urban Apologetics. Every book I’ve ever read on apologetics, every lecture I’ve ever heard on the topic, every conversation I’ve had on apologetics has had an academic bent, addressing the defense of the Christian faith from classical, evidential, and presuppositional perspectives. Urban Apologetics is entirely unique, as Carl F. Ellis Jr. notes in the foreword: “Traditional apologetics has largely remained silent on many forms of controversy and unbelief associated with contemporary realities of the ‘hood.’ Urban Apologetics is a welcome contribution to filling this gap” (8). Christopher Brooks wrote this book to debunk the myth that there’s no audience for urban apologetics  and no space for urban apologists in the conversation, and to “bring about a greater connection between urban Christians and those who do the work of apologetics and theology” (15). He wrote this book both for urban Christians desiring to evangelize their own communities, and those outside that culture who desire to reach inner cities with the gospel.

For those of us who are entirely foreign to life in the inner city and the unique challenges and objections to Christianity therein, the following is very illuminating:

Certainly, there is a need for Christians who are trained in the academic disciplines of theology, archeology, and textual criticism, but the vast majority of situations one encounters in urban ministry settings have to do with the moral reservations many struggle with concerning their faith. In the inner city, there is a collective heart cry that questions if God is just and if He can be trusted. There is also the brute utilitarian skepticism that questions the viability and workability of Christian ethics. Simply put, many have come to the harsh conclusion that if it doesn’t work, then no matter how smart and systematic our answers are, they are a waste of time. This means the message urban apologists present to their audiences must be biblical, relevant, and workable.

(Brooks 21)

Urban Apologetics proceeds to give an introduction to several issues in the context of the inner city: ethics, abortion, sexuality, family, religious pluralism, and social justice. Brooks illuminates the situation in the inner city, provides a biblical view of the issue, and gives suggestions for engaging the issue in an inner-city context. While the issues highlighted are more prevalent in the inner city, they are generally relevant everywhere in our culture. Therefore, while this book is especially helpful for those seeking insight into how to connect with people for the sake of the gospel the inner city, it’s enlightening for all as a primer on the cultural/ethical issues of our day.

My only quibble with this book actually has to do with the title, and maybe this is just because of my cultural background (intellectual, “white suburbia”) and the issues I’ve always associated with apologetics. While I think all the insight and issues addressed in this book are helpful, I see them as issues of biblical ethics and worldview, not apologetics. I firmly believe in the importance of the social/cultural issues highlighted in Urban Apologetics and the need for Christians to be able to speak biblically and convincingly on these issues, engaging not just the mind but also the heart. I believe all the issues addressed can and should be connected to the gospel. However, I just think that labeling the book with “apologetics” is misleading because issues of sanctity of life, sexuality, etc. are discipleship issues for Christians, not barriers you have to get over in order to share the gospel with someone (this is ignoring the dimension of cultural engagement and only speaking from the perspective of apologetics and evangelism. this is also not saying that these cultural/ethical issues should be ignored if they come up in evangelism). Apologetics should exist for the purpose of evangelism, and a biblical ethic/worldview cannot be formed before someone is born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Again, I think this book is very helpful for Christians who are familiar with traditional apologetics but are looking for an introduction to addressing the cultural/social issues of our day, and especially for those looking for a window into the inner city. I also recognize that perhaps my discomfort with labeling this book and these issues with “apologetic” has to do with my personal tradition and convictions in the area of apologetics and theology. For those who disagree with me, please know that my heart is to keep the main thing the main thing, and for the gospel to not be lost in our apologetic endeavors. Then again, traditional apologetics has this problem too; you can talk theodicy theoretically until you’re blue in the face, and never actually share the gospel and call someone to repentance. So in the end, may our goal in all our apologetic endeavors be for the sake of the “simplicity” of declaring the gospel, for faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of Christ.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for providing a copy of this book for an honest review!

Purchase: Amazon