Tag Archives: IVP

In the Mail from @ivpacademic

IVP kindly sent me two books for review.

Purchase

First, the newly discovered commentary on Acts by J.B. Lightfoot is the first of a three volume set to be published by IVP. Ben Witherington found many handwritten pages of the commentary at Durham Cathedral Library and enlisted Todd D. Still to assist with the project. This is an exciting new (and old) publication that I look forward to examining.

 
 

Purchase

The second book that came in unexpectadly is Kenneth Bailey’s The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament. Bailey examines the Good Shepherd motif beginning in Psalm 23 and continuing through the Prophets, Gospels, and 1 Peter. Bailey is able to examine this motif uniquely because of his research and teaching in the Middle East. He says,

“For nearly fifty years, Middle Eastern shepherds with their flocks were a part of the larger context in which I grew up and then lived and taught the New Testament…It was my privilege to have laymen and clergy in three countries as my students who had herded sheep for extended periods in the Eastern Mediterraneans.”

I look forward to Bailey’s unique perspective in examining the theme of the Good Shepherd in the Bible.

Thanks IVP for these review copies!

Book Review: Jesus is the Christ by Michael Bird

Many thanks to IVP Academic for this free review copy

Jesus is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels is the follow-up volume to Bird’s earlier work Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, which explores the the historical question whether Jesus knew and claimed to be the Messiah. He concludes in that work that indeed Jesus saw himself as the Messiah outlined in the Scriptures. Jesus is the Christ builds on this conclusion and shows how the primary purpose of the four Gospels is to show that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

If you have not read his previous book then you are in luck. The introduction to the book provides a basic analysis of the claim that Jesus knew and claimed that he was the Messiah. Bird is clear and concise in this introduction and gives the new reader sufficient background to this topic. This leads into his thesis:

“a significant purpose of the Gospels is to convince readers — Jewish readers in particular — that Jesus is the Messiah. THe Gospels consciously set out to answer Jewish objections to the messiahship of Jesus, they perceive in Jesus the climax of the Jewish hope, and they proclaim Jesus as the savior of Israel (33).”

Bird has a special knack for taking the major themes of the Gospels and weaving them together in such a way that is coherent and enjoyable to read. Starting with the Gospel of Mark he combines a narrative, linguistic, rhetorical, social-scientific, and Christological analysis on the Gospel. I especially found the social-scientific analysis enlightening. Bird shows how the shameful act of crucifixion is actually “honorable” because Mark presents the cross as the “vindication, honor, and glory” of Christ (44–45). Somehow Bird then weaves together the theological masterpiece of Matthew into a narrative showing the Matthean focus of Jesus as the Davidic messiah coming to bring deliverance to both the Jews and Gentiles. Bird then combines the Luke-Acts narrative showing that Luke’s main purposes are showing that Jesus is the messiah and that "those who express faith in Jesus and join ‘the Way’ are constituted as the people of God in the messianic age. Finally, the Gospel of John is summed up beautifully in his final paragraph:

“The confession that Jesus is the Messiah, and the mode of sonship that it claimed for him, make it clear that Jesus is from, of, with, and even is God. Jesus fulfills the scriptural hopes in such a way as to eclipse the place of the law and Moses from the centre of Jewish belief, and Jesus stands in an unparalleled unity with the Father — that is what it means to call him the Messiah (140).”

I found Bird’s approach to the Gospels both compelling and engaging. Reading through each chapter the reader is hit with a whirlwind of ideas and themes related to the Gospel writers portrayal that Jesus is indeed the long awaited Messiah. I especially enjoyed his emphasis that the Messianic titles in the Gospel of Mark, while important individually, come together as a whole to “form a mutually interpretive christological spiral where one defines the meaning of the other (45).” Bird is able to fly above the Gospels and provide narrative overview while swooping down to show how the individual parts make up the whole.

Many people reading this will already have in their mind that the Gospels present Jesus as the Messiah but this book still has much merit for those readers. The insights into the themes and theology of the Gospels are worthy to be read for anyone being introduced to the Gospels. After reading this book students will be able to read the Gospels individually and understand how each story stands in relation to the whole. If one is not convinced that the Gospels present Jesus as the Christ they too should also pick up this book because one would be hard pressed to argue against this notion after reading Bird’s analysis.

I am a footnote snob so I was disappointed when I opened the book to find that it had endnotes. This makes for a slower read for someone who is interested in the “extras” with each endnote. The introduction alone has 92 endnotes in 30 pages of writing, which makes for slow reading. I ended up just noting particular endnotes that I wanted to look at later and found this a more fruitful enterprise and to just read Bird’s analysis without stopping to check out each one. With that being said, this minor negative point should not detract someone interested in the Gospels from reading this book.

To conclude, I would highly recommend this book to any student of the Bible. The Gospels, as Pennington puts it, are the “archways of the Canon[1]”. Understanding the themes and theology of them in relation to how they present Jesus as the Messiah will not only enrich the students understanding of the Gospel themselves but also the rest of the writings of the New Testament. With Birds engaging writing style and way of turning a phrase (such as "Mk. 14:61–62 looks like a bit of a christological blender…(51)) will leave the student with both an enlightening and enjoyable read. Highly recommended.

Also check out my other reviews of IVP Academic books:

Also check out his upcoming book, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction.


  1. Pennington, Jonathan T. Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction. Baker Books, 2012, 229.  ↩

Book Review: Early Christian Thinkers edited by Paul Foster (IVP)

Many thanks to IVP Press for providing this review copy

Title: Early Christian Thinkers: The Lives and Legacies of Twelve Key Figures
Edited by: Paul Foster
Price: $23.00 (Amazon Link)

There is an ever-growing interesting into early Christian history and the Church Fathers. This interest is two pronged: Many are seeking to understand the rise of Christianity and another related group is interested in the interpretive method of these early Christian thinkers. These are not new categories but the larger interest of a younger generation is growing. It is difficult to dive into these early writings without understanding the context of the writers life situation and other writings. This book finds its niche in providing a scholarly overview of these writings and the impact it had on later Christian writings. This is why this book, Early Christian Thinkers is a needed addition to the plethora of introductory resources of the early Church.

As it is with literature, all writing builds and is related in some ways to other similar (and not so similar writings) writings. This volume seeks to show “the way in which these early Christians, while being rooted in their own cultural contexts, made innovative contributions towards developing Christian thought, theology, and piety (xi).” Many of these contributions to early Christianity are intertwined with other Christian thinkers and are responses to others outside the faith. This collection of essays successfully shows the development of the writer, the importance of his/her writings for the Christian faith, and the effects it has on later Christian writers.

The book is laid out in twelve distinct chapters covering the following early Christian thinkers:

  1. Justin Martyr (Paul Parvis)
  2. Tatian (Paul Foster)
  3. Irenaeus (Denis Minns)
  4. Theophilus of Antioch (Rick Rogers)
  5. Clement of Alexandria (Judith L. Kovacs)
  6. Tertullian (Everett Ferguson)
  7. Perpetua (Sara Parvis)
  8. Origen (Rebecca Lyman)
  9. Cyprian of Carthage (J. Patout Burns)
  10. Hippolytus of Rome (Ulrich Volp)
  11. Gregory Thaumaturgus (Michael Slusser)
  12. Eusebius of Caesarea (Timothy David Barnes)

Each chapter seeks to give a paragraph length introduction, a short biography, an overview of the writings, theology, legacy, and a concise bibliography. Overall, most of the authors successfully wrote within this context. The essays by Lyman (Origen) and Kovacs (Clement of Alexandria) were especially insightful. Lyman’s portrait of Origen was fair and even-handed in giving an overview of his life and the controversies surrounding his writings. Kovacs gives a helpful overview of Clement’s theology by summarizing it in five key ideas:

  1. What is the purpose of human life?
  2. Who is God and how can he be known?
  3. How is the revelation of scripture to be understood?
  4. What is God’s plan for human salvation?
  5. How are believers to become perfect?

I was also excited to see the inclusion of Perpetua’s writings. Often in introductions to early Christian thinkers a female presence is neglected. The essay was interesting and insightful but it did seem out of place for this volume. Each other essay shows how the persons writings and thought were unique and influenced other Christian thought. But with this essay it is more of a biographical sketch of the author and her theology. The essay concludes by saying, “If Perpetua is not the early church’s greatest theologian, what she has going for her is yet something fairly rare: we have convincing portraits of both her family and her public life, and they add up (109).” This conclusion sums up the essay, a fine biography of the life of Perpetua but lacking in the influence she had as an early Christian thinker.

There was one particular essay that did not seem to fit the purpose of the book, Tatian by Paul Foster. In this essay Foster seemed to focus an unduly amount of time on text critical issues in Tatian. This seemed out of place within the context of the rest of the essays, which rarely focused on text critical issues of the writings. When others did mention them it was concise and to the point. The essay still has redeeming qualities though. Foster provides several helpful charts showing some of the content of Tatian’s writing. His section on whether Tatian was a heretic is insightful too. He concludes that most likely Tatian’s writings were not “unorthodox” at the time and some of his followers later formed unorthodox doctrines that Tatian was linked to.

The bibliographies of most of the works are especially helpful for the student and scholar. The bibliographies were often times broken down according to each work and then a select list of monographs concerning the writer. It is difficult for beginning students to know which works/translations to consult for academics and this provides a helpful guide.

Overall, I would recommend this book to any student that has an interest in early Christian thought. The essays written found the niche needed, they were neither to short and basic or too narrow focused on singular issues. I found myself understanding the writings of each of these thinkers better and with an eye towards the context that they are writing in. The bibliographies are especially helpful for the student or scholar wishing for sources of their works. I think that students who are interested in reading the writings of any of these early Christian thinkers would do well to first consult the relevant essay to understand the life and context of the writer. For students interested in the history of interpretation this book is a valuable read in order to better understand and utilize the writings of this era for interpretation today.

Related: See Brian Leport at the Near Emmaus blog give his thoughts on each chapter here.

3 Quick Characteristics of Patristic Exegesis

According to Judith Kovacs[1]

  1. Careful attention to the scriptural images and symbols
  2. Understanding specific passages in the context of the whole Canon
  3. Concern for how the study of Scripture can foster the spiritual life of the interpreter

  1. Foster, Paul. 2010. Early Christian Thinkers: The Lives and Legacies of Twelve Key Figures. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 78  ↩

Theophilus’ Reflection on His Conversion

Theophilus’[1] reflection on his conversion:

Do not disbelieve, then, but believe. I see too did not believe that the resurrection would take place, but now that I have considered these matters I believe. At that time I encountered the sacred writings of the holy prophets, who through the Spirit of God foretold past events in the way that they happened, present events and the way they are happening and future events and the order in which they will be accomplished. Because I obtain proof from the events, which took place after being predicted, I do not disbelieve but believe, in obedience to God. If you will, you too must obey him and believe him, so that after disbelieving now you will not be persuaded later, punished with eternal tortures.[2]


  1. He was a second-century bishop from Syrian Antioch, who was an apologist, a biblical exegete, a historian, an evangelist, a heresiologist, a theologian, and a teacher.  ↩

  2. Quoted in Foster, Paul. 2010. Early Christian Thinkers: The Lives and Legacies of Twelve Key Figures. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 57  ↩

Review: Imitating God in Christ: Recapturing a Biblical Pattern

I would first like to thank IVP Academic for this free review copy.
You can purchase the book here.
Download the PDF of the review here

Introduction

Imitation is ingrained into the human experience. People naturally imitate who they admire or honor. Whether it is a child imitating his parents or a student imitating his professor, everybody imitates someone. This can be for better or for worse. Jason Hood’s new book Imitating God in Christ: Recapturing a Biblical Pattern stresses the importance of recognizing imitation as a valid and correct way of reading the Bible.

As with all methods of reading the Bible there can be both helpful and harmful ways of interpretation. Imitation done properly is not exact copying but rather is “actions and mindsets that reflect the actions and mindsets of another (12).” He notes that in todays Christianity there are three main groups that use (or don’t use) a hermeneutic of imitation. First, the “latitudinal left”, who use imitation but leave out the theological grounding. Second, the “muddy middle”, who seem confused and tend to “focus on imitation (that is) disconnected from God’s work for sinners (14).” Finally, the “reluctant right”, who are suspicious of anyone who places an emphasis on imitation. Hood’s goal is to reclaim imitation in the life and practice of the church.

Overview

The foundation of the book as a whole is that since human beings are made in the image of God then it necessarily follows that we are imitators of him. Hood continues to show the emphasis that the Old Testament stresses on imitation of God. he notes that many studies of imitation of Jesus and Paul have already been done by imitation actually starts in the Old Testament by imitating God. He says that humans are God’s image-bearers so we should “imitate the character he displays as he works (40).” To be human is to imitate God in all areas including his faithfulness, forgiveness, generosity, and righteousness (40). By imitating God humans are responding to God’s work and are being sanctified. Christians must realize the dual nature of the way God works in the world, it is both his work and our work, we must hold these in tandem. Imitating God is part of the human experience. He notes that often times in Old Testament interpretation interpreters tend to use a “Christ-centered” only approach but the New Testament also uses the Old Testament to exhort people to godly lives. The impetus for imitating Christ is the Old Testament’s call of imitating God.

Hood continues into his next section to focus on the imitation of Jesus. Jesus is the “true image, the true human” and because of this believers are also to imitate him. Jesus as the Messiah is also the “representative human” but the theology of Jesus “should not stop at describing him as a substitute.” Imitation includes all aspects of Jesus life, such as bearing shame and scorn as Jesus did. Imitating Jesus also means imitating the vocations that he gave his disciples. Hood notes three vocations: 1) authorized agents 2) apprentices 3) ambassadors (65–68). Each of these aspects should play a role in the believers life. This can not be done alone but it is only the Spirit empowered life that can imitate Jesus properly. Imitation also takes a major role in the New Testament letters. Hood emphasizes that the imitation that Paul calls for is rooted in the Gospel. Since believers are a new creation this is the “engine” that drives imitation, it is not legalism or moralism but an integral aspect of being a Christian.

The final section on “who” we imitate addresses imitating the “saints.” This section largely argues that we should see the characters in Scripture (Abraham, Moses, Job, Paul etc.) as ones to imitate. Drawing from the New Testament Hood shows that the New Testament writers use characters in the Old Testament as ones to be imitated. James refers to Abraham, Rahab, Elijah, and Job as all ones to be imitated (160) and Peter, Jude, and John also provide numerous examples (161). He concludes, “the use of characters for moral instruction–a pattern so ingrained in New Testament authors that they even used angels as examples–is virtually absent from some contemporary interpretation (161).”

The most helpful aspect of the book comes in the final chapters (13–15). Hood addresses objections that interpreters commonly give to imitation. This section is largely written for the “reluctant right” and quotes numerous pastors and theologians that voice strong opinions for not using imitation in preaching and teaching (Horton, Greidanus, and others). But if preachers and teachers are going to follow the New Testament example they need to include imitation in their teaching. He argues that one of the functions of Scripture is to be used as moral instruction (169). Interpretation should include both a Christ-centered focus and an imitation focus. Too often the “right” solely focuses on the former. finally, he shows how interpreters of the past included imitation in their preaching and teaching. This list of interpreters includes snippets from the apostolic and early church fathers, Calvin, Luther, Edwards, and others. while this chapter seems to focus on the right it is really a call to all interpreters to rethink imitation and look to the past to a time where imitation was rooted in the gospel and taught to the church

Thoughts

Hood is an engaging writer who presents the biblical text clearly. He is able to weave in more scholarly works with a pastors heart that is still accessible to a wide range of people. Throughout the book he tracks through biblical texts showing how every section and genre of Scripture exhorts its readers to imitation. If you do not think imitation is a biblical concept then this book is for you.

I think his analysis of the left, middle, and right is helpful addressing a large range of readers. By showing that this is not necessarily a new concept but one that has been lost in the church’s interpretation today. Hood is reclaiming the church to imitation. For readers who are not familiar with this concept or against a reading of imitation. Pastors, youth leaders, and students are the focus of this book. Pastors will be able to see a vision of how imitation is used throughout the Bible and to spark ideas how to apply imitation properly in preaching and teaching. Imitation is an important concept that should be taught in the church today. We need to follow in the footsteps of the New Testament writers and the interpreters throughout church history and including imitation and are teaching and reading.

The following is not necessarily a critique of the book but rather identifying who this book is for. Personally, while reading this book I found myself wanting more from various topics (imitation in the Gospels, cross bearing, history of imitation etc). Hood covers a plethora of texts in little space. By having a biblical theology of imitation in a short amount of space many concepts are only briefly addressed. It is important to remember the audience when reading a book. Hood successfully writes a helpful introduction to imitation while critiquing various conflicting positions.

One thing that I would like to see is a “how-to” book on imitation for preaching and teaching. This book successfully gets the word out on imitation but a follow up would be helpful to those who are newly persuaded to theologically grounded imitation.

Overall, Hood provides a solid critique of the contemporary scene lack of solid imitation exegesis throughout the Bible. I would recommend this book to anyone who is not familiar with the idea of imitation or is outright against it. If you are wondering what the Bible says about imitation this book is for you. This book will give you a solid foundation of imitation that will allow you to pursue more works that delve more deeply in this idea (see Drama of Doctrine by Kevin VanHoozer). This book is a helpful launching point for discussions within the church for integrating imitation with discipleship.

I’ll end with this quote from Jay. Gresham Mecham:

“Jesus as a matter of fact it is a Brother to us as well as a savior –an elder Brother who steps we may follow. The imitation of Jesus as a fundamental place in the Christian life; it is perfectly correct to represent him as our supreme and only perfect example.” (70)