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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


Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Kostenberger & Patterson)

Andreas Kostenberger and Richard Patterson. Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2011. 896 pp. $46.99.

invitationBiblical hermeneutics (the science of interpreting the Bible) is one of the most important topics for the Christian – not just for seminary students, pastors, and those in vocational ministry, but for lay Christians as well. Because hermeneutics is taught in Bible college and seminary, perhaps I can say that it’s even more important for laypeople to pursue. Bad hermeneutics and false teachings are rampant, and lay Christians need to be equipped to rightly handle the word of truth. All believers should be encouraged to read a book on hermeneutics and/or be trained in the discipline early in their Christian life to set up good habits for lifelong study of the word, whether through a church Sunday School course, campus ministry training, or even in individual discipleship if formal training groups are not available/possible. Long-time professors Andreas Kostenberger and Richard Patterson have written a comprehensive introduction to hermeneutics that would serve well in the classroom, in lay training courses, and for individuals looking for an in-depth guide to the interpretive process.

Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology is designed to teach “a simple method” for interpreting the Bible (23) that involves preparation, interpretation, and application. The introductory chapter is devoted to preparation and sets the stage for the book by addressing issues such as the need for skilled interpretation and the cost of failed interpretation. Chapter 1 also provides a brief survey of the  history of biblical interpretation and an introduction to the hermeneutical triad. The concluding chapter is devoted to application and helps the student bridge the principles learned in this book to the real world of teaching, preaching, and applying the Word. Here the authors offer tips and resources for study, as well as a guide to sermon preparation for each biblical genre (including major mistakes often made, advice for how to preach from that genre, and a sample lesson/sermon from a text in that specific genre).

Everything in between (14 chapters) is dedicated to the hermeneutical triad of interpretation, which proposes that in interpreting any passage of Scripture, one should study the historical background, literary context, and theological message. This practice of studying Scripture is not new, but the terminology is used in this book for the first time. Part 1 opens with one chapter addressing the first element of history, moving from the primeval period of the Old Testament through the end of the New Testament period, covering the Second Temple period in between. Relevant extrabiblical primary sources are also covered, such as apocryphal and pseudepigraphal literature as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Part 3 in one chapter addresses the third element in the triad, that of theology, and covers biblical theology, New Testament theology, and the use of the Old Testament in the New. In between these two chapters lies not just the bulk of this section, but the bulk of the entire book – twelve chapters on the second element of the hermeneutical triad, literature.

Unlike many hermeneutics books which move from general to special hermeneutics, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation moves from special to general. Accordingly, Part 2 on literature moves from canon to genre, then finally to language. Because of the importance of the overarching storyline of Scripture on the interpretation of individual sections, Part 2 begins with a chapter on the OT canon and a chapter on the NT canon. Then a chapter is devoted to each of the different types of biblical genre (OT narrative, poetry and wisdom, prophecy, NT narrative, parables, epistles, and finally, a chapter specifically devoted to the book of Revelation), providing nature and characteristics of the genre, sample exegesis of a passage, and guidelines for interpreting the genre. Finally, the chapters on language cover topics such as the basics of biblical Greek and Hebrew, the basics of Greek syntax, discourse analysis,  exegetical fallacies, and interpreting figurative language.

Invitation to Biblical Interpretation is the most comprehensive introduction to hermeneutics that I’ve seen. It is the ideal text for a layperson looking for an in-depth, comprehensive introduction to hermeneutics (background knowledge isn’t required, but you’d need to like or at least be undaunted by big books). This would also be a good text for a church adult Sunday School series in hermeneutics, or any other serious lay training course whether in a church or parachurch context. Finally, I think this book would also make a great textbook for introductory hermeneutics courses in Bible college and seminary. Each chapter begins with chapter objectives and a chapter outline and ends with key words, study questions, assignments, and chapter bibliography, facilitating classroom use as well as self-learning.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

Thanks to Kregel Academic for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review!

Book Review – Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook (Herbert W. Bateman IV)

Herbert W. Bateman IV. Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook (Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2013. 320 pp. $29.99.

interpreting the gen lettersThe third of a four-volume series (Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis), Interpreting the General Letters is designed to shape the way we think about, study, and teach the General Epistles (Hebrews, James, the Petrine letters, the Johannine letters, and Jude). This book provides valuable background information as well as a step-by-step process for interpreting and communicating the General Letters; though the focus is specifically on the General Epistles, some of the information and skills are easily transferable to the Pauline epistles and even to the other genres of the New Testament.

Chapters 1 and 2 lay the foundation for interpreting the General Letters by providing information on the genre and background, respectively. Chapter 1  illuminates the component parts of a letter in the Greco-Roman world, the types of epistolary correspondence in the Greco-Roman world, and how determining the type of a General Epistle may benefit our studying, interpreting, and teaching them. Chapter 1 ends with a look at the use of amenuenses and the issue of pseudonymity in the Greco-Roman world and in the General Letters. Chapter 2 provides important background information into the Greco-Roman world and the Judean-Roman relationship, concluding with a look at the implications of this background information on interpreting the General Letters. Because implications differ from epistle to epistle, Bateman illustrates by way of three examples: wisdom in James, household codes in 1 Peter, and rebellion in Jude.

Chapter 3 continues laying the foundation with an overview of the biblical theology of the General Letters and its specific canonical contributions. The chapter first looks at the era of promise in the Hebrew Scriptures and the era of fulfillment in the General Letters, providing an overview of biblical covenants from a dispensational perspective. Then Bateman provides a summary of the predominant theological theme of each of the General Letters, recognizing that every dominant theme is undergirded by several other theological themes.

Chapters 4-6 provide a step-by-step approach for interpreting the General Letters. Below are the nine steps. For each step, Bateman uses specific examples from the General Letters to illustrate the process.

Chapter 4: Preparing to Interpret the General Letters
Step One: Initiate a translation
Step Two: Identify interpretive issues
Step Three: Isolate major textual problems

Chapter 5: Interpreting Passages in the General Letters
Step Four: Interpreting structure
Step Five: Interpreting style, syntax, and semantics
Step Six: Interpreting Greek Words

Chapter 6: Communicating the General Letters
Step Seven: Communicating exegetically
Step Eight: Communicating the central idea
Step Nine: Communicating homiletically.

The last chapter provides an exposition of Jude 5-7 and Hebrews 10:19-25, pulling together the previous six chapters to provide examples of the teachings of the book in action. The book ends with a very helpful bibliography that groups sources by category (e.g. sources for comprehending first-century letter-writing, sources for building a biblical theology, sources for interpreting Greek words, etc.), a guide for choosing commentaries in general, and suggested commentaries for each of the General Epistles.

Interpreting the General Letters is an excellent introductory guide to interpreting and communicating the General Letters. A basic knowledge of Greek (probably one-year level) is necessary in order to get the most out of this book. For any pastor, Bible teacher, and serious student of the Word with a working knowledge of Greek, this would be a valuable book for guidance in interpreting and communicating the General Letters. I imagine it would also be a suitable supplementary text for seminary courses on the General Letters.

*Thanks to Kregel Academic for providing a free copy in exchange for an unbiased review!

Purchase: Amazon

Book Review – A Commentary on Judges and Ruth (Robert Chisholm Jr.)

Robert B. Chisholm Jr. A Commentary on Judges and Ruth (Kregel Exegetical Library). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2013. 704 pp. $39.99.

jrFrom the pulpit to the pew, there is a general anemia in the Church in relation to the Old Testament. Lay Christians struggle to read/understand/apply large parts of the OT, and teachers/Bible study leaders/preachers neglect vast amounts of the OT or struggle through, teaching the facts of the content and/or jumping to moralistic applications while missing the the theocentric, redemptive-historic heart of the texts. Commentaries are a great help to both the interested lay student of the Word as well as to preachers and teachers. A majority of commentaries are either largely academic without much direct homiletical help, or preaching/application oriented but not as rigorous in exegesis and the technical issues of scholarship. In A Commentary on Judges and Ruth, the latest addition to the Kregel Exegetical Library, Chisholm has provided a valuable resource for the Church that combines the best of both worlds.

Designed for pastors and teachers, this commentary is written from the conviction that relevant exposition of Scripture needs to answer three questions: 1) what the text meant in its context; 2) what theological principles emerge from a thematic analysis of the text; and 3) how the message of the text is relevant to the church.  Chisholm answers these questions in this commentary through a three-step process:

(1) I begin with a close exegetical-literary reading of the text that surfaces the thematic emphases of each major literary unit. Such analysis yields an exegetical idea for each unit that succinctly captures the message of that unit in its cultural-historical context. (2) In step two I move outside the boundaries of the specific text being studied and develop a theological idea for each literary unit. These theological ideas express the enduring principles or truths that are rooted in the text and are relevant for a modern audience. (3) In the third step I develop homiletical trajectories from the theological idea of the passage…Following the trajectories enables us to produce one or more preaching ideas for each literary unit.”

(Chisholm 14)



Book Review: Apostle of The Last Days: The Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul (C. Marvin Pate)

Today I have a review of this book at Nate Claiborne’s blog.

Apostle of The Last Days is a valuable contribution to Pauline studies. The majority of the book is a survey through Paul’s entire corpus, demonstrating the eschatology of each epistle vis-à-vis the competing eschatologies of the respective cities. It’s written at a moderately academic level, with most Greek words untransliterated. This book is definitely a treat for anyone with particular interest in Pauline studies and/or eschatology; but because the thesis is advanced through a survey of all of Paul’s epistles, it would benefit any semi-academic student of the Word by imparting a greater understanding of each of Paul’s epistles.

Click here to read the full review.