Category Archives: Book Reviews

Recent Goings On

So much has been happening and I’ve not kept my faithful readers abreast of it all.

First, thanks to those of you who have stuck with this blog during its dormancy.

Second, I’ve received a couple of books over the past few months for review. Yes, I still plan to review books when I have the time. My Twitter followers have been made aware of these but my blog readers have not.

Wipf & Stock sent along Kevin Giles’ The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity. I was made aware of this volume from a post on Scot McKnight’s blog. The material he quoted had Giles quoting Denny Burk so I naturally tracked the original material down and found that Giles was taking Burk out of context and misrepresenting him. Burk confirmed as much on Twitter when I brought it up to McKnight. So I’m looking forward to a more than likely scathing review of this book. I’ve admitted to being unnecessarily harsh to Giles’ work in the past but then I reread it or read something new and think that maybe it was necessary.

The other volume I received for review came courtesy of Mohr Siebeck. It’s Benjamin Pacut’s Redescribing Jesus’ Divinity Through a Social Science Theory. Tim Bertolet had good things to say about it so I’m hopeful that it will be good.

Thirdly, in other news, Fortress Press has partnered with an organization called Givingtons and they’re running a ridiculously discounted sale on a bunch of books. I had initially ordered a copy of David Congdon’s The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology. Okay, so this has a $99 list price. Amazon sells it for just under $70. They had the Kindle version available for like $7 for a while but I’ve never once read any of the Kindle volumes I own. I can’t see starting now. So I was pretty much out of luck with this one. Until this sale. I found out about it on Facebook from Congdon and proceeded to order his book for a paltry $9! I also added a book on Incarnation.

But then some wacky stuff started to happen. Two weeks after placing the order I emailed customer service to check on the status of the order since nothing had even been shipped. I was refunded the money for Congdon’s book with the explanation that they were out of stock and didn’t expect to receive any from the publisher. This was disappointing. But they assured me that they were sending the other book. I told them thanks, but no thanks, and canceled the entire order. The other volume was merely an add-on.

So I took to Twitter and lamented the state of affairs. I also emailed the customer service rep and asked why people who had ordered the book after I had received a copy while I had been declined. You see, I know for a fact that there were people who missed out on the initial sale and ordered during a second wave. They had received books while I had not. I was given an unsatisfactory answer. But Congdon was good enough to contact his people at Fortress and get to the bottom of it all. I ended up being contacted and told that they were getting a new batch and that I could order it again, this time with free shipping for my inconvenience! So that I did. I also added a book on a non-sacramental reading of John 6.

Fourthly, I got off Facebook. I had initially signed up to meet my wife. We met. We dated. We married. The end. I still have the account; I just deleted the app.

product_thumbnailFifthly, I’ve self-published a collection of book reviews on books about Christology. It’s called Christology in Review: A Layman’s Take on Books about Christology. You can purchase a copy here if you’re so interested. It’ll cost you $6. Almost all of these reviews are available for free on the blog. I have added a review essay of Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God, which is a bit more detailed than the review I have on the blog. I’ve also slightly edited the content of the some of the reviews and have done my best to format them all similarly; at least where possible.

And that’ll just about do it for this update.

Oh, and I’m happy to note that my brother from another mother Fr Esteban Vázquez is back to blogging! It’s substantive stuff too; not drivel like this!

B”H

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Better Late than Never

I just saw a review of Kevin Giles’ The Eternal Generation of the Son written by Jim Cassidy on the Reformed Forum blog. It’s a good review. Much more sympathetic to Giles’ work than my own review. Cassidy begins with reference to my review and he agrees with certain points I make but disagrees with others. I only wish I had known about this more than 3 years ago when it was originally posted! It was still good reading though, and I always go back to my reviews of Giles’ books and think that I was unnecessarily harsh at the time of writing them. There’s just something about his stuff that riles me up. In any event, check out Cassidy’s review. It’s worth your time.

B”H

The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary

Hultgren, Arland J. The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000. Pp. xxix + 522. Paper. $42.00. 

For the last few months we’ve been doing a Bible study series on Jesus’ parables at my church. As I’ve prepared to teach there have been three books that have become indispensable. The first has been Klyne Snodgrass’ Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, which I reviewed a few years back. The second is Eugene Peterson’s Tell it Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers, which was graciously given to me by my friend Robert Jimenez. The third is the title under review, Arland J. Hultgren’s The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary.

Hultgren’s volume was published in 2000 and sat on my shelf for a few years before it got any regular use but has since become invaluable in my preparation to discuss Jesus’ most popular form of teaching. This book served as the basis for the introductory class I taught that gave us the basics on how to read and interpret Jesus’ parables. Hultgren begins with an introductory chapter that gives the reader the who, what, when, where, and whys of parables in the Gospels, namely how to identify and interpret them and what makes Jesus’ parables unique (or not).

The working definition that drives Hultgren’s study is that “A parable is a figure of speech in which a comparison is made between God’s kingdom, actions, or expectations and something in this world, real or imagined” (3). He says that there are two types of parables: narrative parables and similitudes, which is somewhat simplistic compared to the categorization that Snodgrass uses, but workable in a general sense. Under this definition and these categories Hultgren identifies 38 units that can be treated as parables.

He separates them thematically and treats them as:

  1. Parables of the Revelation of God
  2. Parables of Exemplary Behavior
  3. Parables of Life Before God
  4. Parables of Final Judgment
  5. Allegorical Parables
  6. Parables of the Kingdom

There are also chapters on the Evangelists as interpreters of Jesus’ parables as well as parables in the Gospel of Thomas. Each individual parable receives the same general treatment although the length of the treatment varies from one parable to the next. But Hultgren’s approach is to first provide a translation of the parable followed by notes on the text and translation. He then gives exegetical commentary before moving on to exposition while rounding the studies out with select bibliographies. Sometimes he provides general comments on the texts when a parable appears in more than one place (e.g., “The Lost Sheep” in Matt 18:12-14//Luke 15:4-7; Thomas 107; Gospel of Truth 31-32).

It’s quite helpful to see how non-canonical material draws certain parallels with the Gospels but also where that material differs. For the most part Hultgren doesn’t go into the depth that Snodgrass does but his volume is half the size so we wouldn’t expect him to. Where I find him to be at his best is in the exposition, which is full of theological reflection and insight for practical application. He makes it clear early on in the book that his approach is to interpret the parables in light of the canon and for the benefit of the church. He does this well by building the foundation for his exposition on exegesis.

Is there room for disagreement in his interpretation of certain things? Of course! But that doesn’t detract from this volume any more than it detracts from others with a similar focus. Perhaps the section that will receive the least disagreement from scholars but possibly the most from those steeped in tradition is the chapter on the Evangelists as interpreters of the parables. Here Hultgren assumes Markan priority and proceeds to discuss the ways in which Matthew or Luke adapt, revised, or altered Mark’s material. This is in no way certain and it could have been helpful to see the alternatives explanations based on Matthean or Lukan priority. But this is a minor complaint.

In all, this is a wonderfully helpful commentary that is sure to aid anyone who is studying or teaching the parables. I wouldn’t say that it should be the only volume you should consult but in the event it was the only volume you could consult then I wouldn’t be too worried. Hultgren’s evenhanded discussions are more than enough to get the student heading in the right direction.

B”H

A Brief Word about Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament

Comfort, Philip Wesley. A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2015. Pp. 443. Hardcover. $29.99.

I’ve had Philip Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament for a few weeks now (I seem to have forgotten to do an “In the Mail” post when it arrived). In many ways it’s similar to Metzger’s volume, which has been a standard for quite some time. Aside from the physical similarities of the two volumes, Comfort, like Metzger, offers mostly pithy notes on variant readings that span anywhere from a sentence to a paragraph. The long notes can cover anywhere from a half page to a page and a half. I’ve not come across Comfort disagreeing with the decisions made by the UBS committee yet, but I’ve only skimmed the commentary at this point. I hope to find Comfort going in different directions at certain points and am interested to see his reasoning for doing so if he does.

The differences I’ve noted off the bat are in the introductions. Metzger’s volume has a brief introduction that talks about the history and transmission of the NT text, the criteria used in determining the best readings, and a list of some of the more important manuscript witnesses delineated according to text type. Comfort’s introductory material on the other hand spans two chapters. The first discusses the NT papyri, significant uncial manuscripts, a primer on assessing manuscripts in order to determine the text, a brief discussion of the canons (11 noted by Comfort) of NT textual criticism, and a healthy discussion of the Nomina Sacra in the NT (Comfort is quite interested in the Nomina Sacra as he mentions in the introduction and is evident throughout the commentary). The second chapter is a helpful annotated list of the manuscripts of the NT.

The most significant difference, however, is that Comfort’s commentary is on actual manuscripts rather than on an eclectic text. He says, “Most commentaries usually adhere to a certain English translation, and the commentators refer to an edition of the Greek New Testament (such as Novum Testamentum Graece or the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament), diverging from it when they deem it necessary. These two Greek editions (which have the same text) were compiled according to the eclectic method, which means that various readings from various manuscripts were selected for the text on a verse-by-verse basis. In this commentary readers will be reading commentary on actual manuscripts, such as P75 for most of the Gospel of Luke, P66 and P75 for the Gospel of John, P46 for nearly all of Paul’s Epistles and Hebrews, and so on” (7).

I was quite pleased to find him disagreeing with the Alands’ categorizations of some of the papyri, not because I necessarily disagree myself, but because it shows that Comfort is an independent and critical voice in the field. I did note that he doesn’t treat certain variants that Metzger did (e.g., Acts 8:24, 35), while commenting on some that Metzger didn’t (e.g., John 17:5, 16). I suppose this could be explained by Comfort’s focus on individual manuscripts and it seems that a lot of Comfort’s unique discussions are related to the Nomina Sacra whereas Metzger doesn’t focus on these at all. I’ve also noticed that after nearly every used of the phrase “nomen sacrum” Comfort puts the English translation “sacred name” in parentheses. It’s a curious and wholly unnecessary practice.

I’m also more than slightly perturbed by the lack of citations of the variants in Greek. Metzger’s commentary, for example, shows “Χριστου [υιου θεου] {C}” at Mark 1:1 and then proceeds to use the Greek term under discussion throughout the note. Comfort’s merely has “Jesus Christ” and then proceeds with the discussion using English translations (which are Comfort’s own) of the variant readings. I can’t understand the reasoning behind this decision through. Presumably this is a reference source intended for students of the Greek New Testament. It would be nice to have some Greek to read throughout the discussions.

But in all I think this will serve as a useful tool to supplement Metzger’s commentary rather than something that can replace it. They each serve a purpose and can be used in conjunction, which is what I plan to do.

B”H

Receive and You Shall Review?

There’s been some discussion on Nijay Gupta’s blog about what he calls a discouraging trend in the world of book reviewing. “Some publishers,” says Gupta, “are becoming more picky about who they send books to, and also some are refusing to send out print books at all to reviewers…” He also laments the practice of sending ebooks with expiration dates. I find the latter to be deplorable. Always have. I forget what book it was that I received years back that had an expiration date on it but it never got reviewed.

Gupta and those who have commented on his post have all pretty much expressed the desire for hard copies over ebooks. I’m with them. One hundred percent. The general consensus is that reviewers should receive some sort of compensation for the reviews they’re providing because each review is publicity for the book and the publisher. I’m not opposed to such thinking. I’ve commented plenty of times on the symbiotic relationship between publisher and reviewer. We get books, they get reviews. Works perfectly.

Now let me quickly say that some people prefer digital books these days so they’re quite happy with books coming to them in PDF, mobi, or epub formats. That’s good and well. It’s great that publishers have the books available in such formats. I’m still all about hard copies but I have about two dozen important works on my iPad in PDF (thousands of PDFs on an external hard drive). It’s great to have them all available to me at once in a searchable format. I can’t envision myself ever making the switch to all digital but if I did then I’d be very grateful to receive an ebook.

But I’ve meandered long enough. The thing I wanted to comment on was something that Jennifer Guo said in her comment on Gupta’s post. She said:

I agree. I’m old fashioned as well and prefer print by leaps and bounds (what kind of book nerd does not need to mark up their books? not to mention smell the pages wink emoticon ). The bigger point is what Christopher mentioned. While I do review an ebook once in a while from the publishers that refuse to send print, I refuse to review a “disappearing ebook.” Reviewing takes time, and it’s also free publicity for the publisher. A free copy is fair compensation, but if you don’t get to keep even an ebook, I do not see it as fair compensation. We might as well just get a library copy and not spend the time to review then!

I understand the concept of fair compensation. I do. I even agree with it. It’s a bait and switch to send a book for review that later gets taken away. Not cool. It’s the last sentence that stuck with me. Is the idea that we should only review the books we’ve received for free from publishers? If so, why? Why wouldn’t we want to take the time to write about the books we check out of the library (not that I’d ever check a book out of a library)? Why not write about the books we purchase with our hard earned cash?

Some might argue that those reviews could/would be better since the reviewer feels no obligation towards the publisher for sending them a gratis copy. For my part I reviewed the books I bought before I ever knew that I could contact publishers and ask for free copies. Reviews have been a part of my blog since its inception. I continued to review books that I bought well after I started receiving them for free. Now I haven’t reviewed anything in a while, but when I get back to it I’ll continue doing what I’ve always done. But who cares about me?

My point is that I don’t think book reviews should be contingent upon receiving free books in any format. If all the publishers in the world suddenly formed a union and decided to no longer provide free copies to interested reviewers would that mean the demise of the book review? That would be most unfortunate. Would we all of a sudden stop thinking about the things we read and consequently stop having the desire to share those thoughts with others? I would hope not!

Receiving free books is a wonderful benefit of reviewing books but I don’t think it should be the primary goal. In my opinion the main goal should be the dissemination of information. Having the means and ability to inform others about works in their fields of interest is a great privilege. I can’t count how many reviews I’ve read over the years that helped me determine if a book was worth my time, or informed me about the contents of a book I couldn’t get my hands on. I wouldn’t say that it’s my duty to return the service, but I’ve long felt that it’s my honor.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject; especially those of you who review books for internet or print publications.

B”H

Traces of the Trinity: Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience

Leithart, Peter J. Traces of the Trinity: Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2015. Pp. ix + 165. Paper. $17.99.

With thanks to Brazos Press for this review copy!

As I sit here at my desk thinking about what to write concerning Peter Leithart’s latest offering, I’m struck by how the end of the book has completely reshaped my view of its beginning. To start, I had assumed that this would be one kind of book and yet it ended up being another. I expected an apologetic for how “God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation” (CCC 237), which I got, but not in the way that I thought I would.

Leithart spends 8 chapters talking about the physical world, personal relationships, time, ethics, love, music, logic, and language while employing the terminology and concept of perichoresis, i.e., “interpenetration” or “mutual indwelling.” It’s not until the 9th chapter that he really turns his attention to God and even there it’s not so much to speak about God qua God, but rather believers being in God. Well and good. Really good in fact.

But as I read through the book, taken by Leithart’s way with words, I couldn’t help but think, and write in the margins, that the things he was describing fell short in every way of the perichoretic relationship that exists in the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And then I arrived at the postscript. Leithart had anticipated my objections; he said so right there in the final pages of the book. And yet he didn’t go back and revise the main contents before publication in order to allay my concerns. He left things as they were, waiting to address the issues that were so bothering me right at the end.

And now I can’t think about the book the same way I did while working through it from the beginning. It seems that Leithart was correct when he said, “there can be no present unless past and future inhabit it” (62). In the present of the past I viewed Leithart’s descriptions with suspicion. But in the future of the now past and then present he had anticipated all that I would disagree with and had an answer ready and waiting. Once that future became present I could no longer view the past in the same light. But all of these moments converged; they all inhabited one another.

Leithart tells us that we inhabit the world just as the world inhabits us. Things are what they are in relation to other things and without some sort of mutual indwelling nothing could ever be what it really is. This goes for parents and children; husbands and wives. It’s true of property and owners or the way we treat others. Language, music, and everything else all the way down the line until we get to the Creator of it all, the God who is Trinity.

Paul told the Romans that God’s invisible qualities have been clearly seen and understood in and by his creation (Rom 1:19-20). Leithart has taken the time to get us thinking about how this is so. For years I’ve been leery about using certain (really any) analogies to describe the Trinity. I once wrote a book (never published because it was ultimately unpublishable) in which I panned the use of love, time, the universe, a family, or even eggs as analogies for the Trinity.

But I see those analogies in new light now. I’m still not convinced that they’re helpful in making sense of how God can be both one and three simultaneously, but perhaps they help to make clear, even if just a bit, how Father, Son, and Spirit can inhabit the same divine space. Leithart has helped me to understand that even if the analogies aren’t a perfect match (if they were then they wouldn’t be analogies) they can still help us say and know something of God. He rightly says that “there is no impropriety in calling God Rock, Sun, Father, or in suggesting that there are analogies between father-son relations and the eternal relation of the Father and Son” (152).

Past redeeming Trinitarian analogies for me, Leithart has got me thinking about the relationships I have with things I hold dear. For example, as I sit down to “get into” the word of God, the word of God “gets into” me. I bring certain presuppositions to the text, which influences my interpretation of the text, and yet the text manages to shape, refine, and at times completely overhaul those presuppositions. On the rare occasion that I read a Bible with notes or commentary I see how the comments illuminate the text while the text illuminates the comments.

The sermons I’ve preached have all been inhabited by my experiences but also by the books that I’ve read, other sermons I’ve heard, conversations I’ve had, or thoughts that I’ve pondered. And while it might not seem obvious how interpenetration works in such an instance I’d just say that as I’ve read, conversed, thought, and experienced, I’ve always had in mind, even if subconsciously, that this thing or that would make good sermon fodder. My sermons inhabited all of these things, even if in nuce.

But the real game changer has not been the redemption of Trinitarian analogies or even me thinking about how I inhabit the world and the world inhabits me. It’s in Leitharts all too brief comments on perichoresis in John’s Gospel; particularly Jesus’ high priestly prayer where he prays that his disciples be one “even as” Father and Son are one. I’ve discussed this passage with Unitarians aplenty and they’re quite fond of pointing out how the oneness that exists between Father and Son can’t be a oneness of substance or nature based on this passage. If it were then we’d also share in the divine nature and the Trinity would be a much larger number. And yet we are described as partakers of the divine nature. We are called into a relationship that has existed from eternity. It is “in Christ,” to use Paul’s language, that we can be one with each other and with Father and Son. Leithart brings this out much more clearly that I have, and he does so with an eloquence of speech that I simply do not possess.

So I’ve said all this to say that you should read this book. I can think of no plainer way to say it. Read this book. That’s all.