November 30, 2011

NIV (2011) Study Bible review

With the release this year of the updated translation of the NIV, Zondervan has released an updated version of their well-known study Bible. I would like to review it briefly, with a review in three parts. First, some brief thoughts on the updated NIV text itself, on which the Bible is based; second, a note about the study features; and third, look at the aesthetics of the Bible and its production.

First, the translation. There has been much controversy surrounding the release of this latest revision of the much loved NIV text, much like the controversy surrounding the release of what became the TNIV in 2005. This most recent NIV does preserve many of the changes that were made in the TNIV, though there are a small percentage of changes where the language has reverted back to the familiar text, along with some places where further revisions were made. I don't want to go into all of the details here. But in short, this latest NIV preserves the tradition of an outstanding translation that is readable and comprehensible. The translation committee is top notch, and contrary to much press to the contrary, not out to foist an egalitarian position on the Biblical text (most of the committee members are of the complementarian position, including the chair, Doug Moo). From what I have seen of the translation, it will be an outstanding text for reading and for study, and I am happy to have this latest version in my hands.

Second, the study notes and features. I have owned three previous editions of this study Bible, and from what I can see, the notes are largely unchanged. Each book of the Bible has a general introduction, that covers issues of authorship, audience, context, major themes, and an outline. These provide helpful information for getting a handle on what is going on for each book of the Bible. The second major "study" feature is study notes that run along the bottom half of each page, helping to explain or give additional background on key words or phrases, people, or themes from the text. They don't cover every verse, though more verses than not probably have some type of note. The third major study feature is the cross-reference system that helps point to other passages in the same book, in the same testament, and across both testaments that use a word or phrase. These are helpful basic resources (of these features, I find I use the cross-references the most). The endmatter includes a truncated but still useful concordance (I love having this right in my hands, even though it's getting easy to just look up passages and word-references on the internet), an index of subjects (that is, a topical index of what biblical passages cover various themes), an index of the notes, pointing the reader to various notes that cover a person or topic, and some helpful study maps.

The third aspect of this Bible upon which I want to comment is the aesthetics. The major change, besides the updated NIV text, from previous editions, is that the Study Bible is now set in four colors throughout. Select color images have been added throughout the text, both in the book introductions and in the text itself, and these add some visual interest and also illustrate the text with archaeological images from relevant contexts. The four-color interior does add a little bit to the overall feel, but the main improvement is in the charts and the already-mentioned images. But it's not an overly exciting interior; the layout is quite functional, with all of the elements working together on the page, just like in most previous editions of this Study Bible.

Overall, I give this Bible four stars. It's a nice, functional Study Bible. It is relatively conservative in its overall approach, but it isn't slanted to a particular tradition, and its notes are dependable, and provide a solid resource to draw on. I love the TNIV Study Bible that I have used over the last few years, with its one column layout, and hope they will soon bring out this new NIV Study Bible with that same format, which makes for easier reading and leaves nice room for notes. The color, images, and revamped charts and maps make this a nice Study Bible, and certainly a strong option.

Thanks to Zondervan and the Amazon Vine program for the review copy.

Whose example of mission?

I was really struck by this quote as I read Joel Willitts's review of DeYoung and Gilbert's recent book on the church and mission:

Paul is not the primary model for the church’s work in the world. He was the apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 2) and was called uniquely to fulfill that particular role. Paul describes his role in 2 Corinthians 2—3 comparing his New Covenant ministry to Moses’ Old Covenant ministry. Our model for church mission, if we can find such a thing in Acts and Paul’s letters, should not be Paul, but the communities Paul left behind.
I was instantly a bit hesitant about that main statement, that Paul isn't the primary model for the church. But as I ruminated on it a bit more, I see much wisdom in it. Paul is obviously an example we should follow, someone we should imitate even as we imitate Christ. But he occupied a very particular place in the plan of God, with a unique role in salvation history as the apostle to the Gentiles. So while I think there is much wisdom in seeking the missionary methods and especially the message of Paul, we should also focus on how envisioned his churches to function, and that might be a better example yet. Food for thought.

November 26, 2011

BBR: Treasure Trove of articles

Though I'm sure these won't be a surprise to many of you, I've just stumbled across two treasure troves of articles that are worthy of your time. The first is the archives of the Bulletin for Biblical Research, which contains PDFs of old issues of the bulletin, and is packed with interesting-looking articles by lots of great scholars (Mike Bird, Martin Hengel, Jacob Neusner, Frank Theilman, etc.). The second is a rediscovery of, which is an interactive bibliography for Biblical studies material, including links to tons of PDFs. So happy exploring. Enjoy!

November 16, 2011

J. Mark Bertrand, Pattern of Wounds

I love to read fiction, as well as non-fiction (and Tony Reinke's Lit! gives some good reasons for Christians to do just that, though for me, one key reason is simply that I love to read a good story). And I love to read fiction that engages with Christian themes, which sometimes means reading "Christian fiction," though that's a difficult category to nail down for sure. When offered a review copy of Mark Bertrand's second book, I thought it looked intriguing and decided to take it on, and I'm glad I did. Pattern of Wounds is the second "Roland March Mystery" from Bertrand. I haven't yet read the first, but my interest is certainly piqued. In this relatively classic who-done-it, a girl is found brutally murdered and grotesquely positioned near her landlord's swimming pool. The pursuit for the killer starts out routine enough, but quickly intertwines with one of March's earlier cases which is now being challenged on appeal, and is soon intertwined with a possible serial killer case connecting dozens of deaths around Texas. Suspects come and go, and the case heats up when March's wife is brutally attacked in his house. The action builds to a series of discoveries that break open the case. Pattern of Wounds is published by Bethany House, putting it squarely in the traditional "Christian fiction" world, but it breaks out of the mold in a number of ways. The most prevalent way is that its main character, Roland March, isn't a Christian but is instead a skeptic, sometimes ignoring and sometimes wrestling with his wife's faith. And while Christian themes are present, in sometimes powerful ways, it's not preachy, and there are no facile or obvious conclusions drawn. March comes off as an honest character, and an authentic one. And the book is better for it. I greatly enjoyed Pattern of Wounds, a thoughtful, plausible, and authentic murder mystery with much to offer. I'm glad to recommend it. Thanks to Bethany House for the review copy.

Joel Green takes over the NICNT

The Eerdmans blog announces today that Joel Green is taking the helm of the venerable NICNT, taking over for Gordon Fee, and standing in the same line as F. F. Bruce and Ned Stonehouse. Dr. Green is the author of The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), and is reported to be working on the forthcoming replacement volume on Acts as well (though he doesn't mention that in his blog post). I have great respect for the NICNT series, and would probably consider it my go-to series if I had to name one. There have been some outstanding volumes, such as Paul's Letter to the Philippians (New International Commentary on the New Testament), The Epistle to the Romans (New International Commentary on the New Testament), and The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), just to name a few. Green also tantalizingly alludes to some volumes that are soon to be forthcoming, such as Hebrews, Mark, and Galatians (no reference to his Acts volume, which I hope is out of modesty, and not on account of its distance from publication). I look forward to future volumes in this series under Green's leadership. It will be interesting to watch how his imprint is left on forthcoming works, particularly with regard to literary criticism, as that seems to be an emphasis in his Luke volume. I wait expectantly to find out.

November 14, 2011

John Dickson, Humilitas

John Dickson's Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadershipis a historical survey of the virtue of humility, along with a frank appraisal of its value and benefits. His subtitle is apt: a lost key to life, love, and leadership. The book is self-consciously styled as a leadership book, though Dickson is clear up front that his expertise in the topic is largely as a historian, as opposed to a leadership expert. And I would say it is very successful in that mold, demonstrating the (counter-intuitive) thesis that humility is a key leadership virtue. But I think the book's benefits extend far beyond the world of leadership. They apply to everyday life, to our closest relationships, and to everything we say and do.

Dickson defines humility as "the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself." He continues by summarizing humility as "a willingness to hold power in service of others" (24, emphasis original). He builds off this definition first by making a historical argument that the ancients didn't value humility as a value, but that a decisive change took place with Jesus Christ, who lived a life typified by humility and called his followers to do likewise. It is worth noting, at this point, though, that while Dickson himself is a Christian, and while Jesus proves a crucial turning point in this history of humility, his arguments are self-consciously not "Christian" in the sense that he doesn't argue from the Bible, instead elevating the virtue based on largely pragmatic and aesthetic grounds, though I think that serves the book well, especially as he envisions a wider audience in leadership circles. But that argument is successful, I think, as he demonstrates the beauty we perceive in humility, the growth and development that can come with humility, and the persuasiveness and inspiration that can come from a leader (or anyone) who exhibits humility.

Dickson's book is an enjoyable read, peppered with stories and anecdotes that illustrate and persuade at the same time. It works as a leadership book, showing the unexpected and counter-intuitive value that comes from humility. But I think it also works for anyone, and especially any Christian, who wants to develop this essential virtue. His clear and persuasive writing make this powerful argument easily readable but also winsome, and I am glad to recommend it.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine program and the publisher for the review copy.

November 09, 2011

Forthcoming from Michael Bird

I'm currently diving into Justification: Five Views (Spectrum Multiview Books), and though I'm only part way through the book, I'm already remembering again how much I appreciate Mike Bird's approach to Paul, and more broadly his approach to the New Testament. I've loved some of his past works, such as his Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message and The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification and the New Perspective. So it was with great interest that I noticed that he includes on his CV posted on his blog a list of forthcoming books:

First Esdras (Septuagint Commentary Series; Leiden: Brill, forthcoming 2012).
With Jason Maston (eds.), Earliest Christianity: History, Literature, and Theology. Essays from the Tyndale Fellowship in Honour of Martin Hengel (WUNT; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, forthcoming 2012).
Jesus is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, forthcoming 2012).
Evangelical Theology: A Gospel Theology for a Gospel People (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, forthcoming 2012).
The Gospels of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013).
(ed.) Four Views on the Apostle Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, forthcoming 2012).
Romans (Regula Fidei New Testament Series; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013).
A Theology of the New Covenant: Context, Community, and Canon (Nottingham: IVP, forthcoming 2014).
An Anomalous Jew: Paul among Jews and Christians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, forthcoming 2015).
A Bird’s-Eye View of Luke–Acts (2016)

Looks like some great stuff on its way, especially his Evangelical Theology volume, which I've heard him reference occasionally on his blog over the last year or so, as well as the upcoming four views on Paul book and his Romans commentary. Okay, maybe I'm interested in all of them. Anyway, looks like some great stuff ahead! Thanks to Mike for his irenic and attentive scholarship. It is unflaggingly gospel-centered and God-honoring, even as it is rigorous and readable. I can't wait. 

November 08, 2011

Peter Leithart, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky is one of the most renowned authors of the nineteenth century. His often tragic and dark writing also shines through with gospel light, and his two most well-known works, The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment, among his other writings, are still often discussed and sighted, and the former, especially, seems to be a favorite among theologians. Peter Leithart has written a short "biography" for the Christian Encounters series for Thomas Nelson. I put biography in quotes because his approach is a little unconventional: Leithart helps readers "encounter" Dostoevsky by constructing the book as mainly consisting of a long conversation between Dostoevsky and his friend Maikov. The conversation is largely fictional, as Leithart makes clear in his foreword, though the notes make clear that he frequently draws on Dostoevsky's own words from his letters and from other sources, lending authenticity to an otherwise fictional narrative. The conversation consists of a reminiscence of key people and events in Dostoevsky's life, and thus provide the basic components of a more traditional biography.

 I found this little book enjoyable to read. The use of a conversation as the structure and primary content of the book adds some interest, and I think Leithart uses it to good effect. But it should be clear that at the same time, while some editorial comments and asides do fill in occasional details or critical commentary, these elements are not as full as would be expected in a more traditional biography, though this isn't likely the point in a series like this one, and shouldn't really be considered a shortcoming.

The two elements I did find oddly missing, though, were more discussion of Dostoevsky's writings and his faith. Both obviously figure in the content of the book, but I was disappointed that only a few of his books come in for mention, and those only briefly. The only real quotations of literature (beyond the aforementioned quotations from Dostoevsky's letters and writings that are woven more or less silently into the conversations) are not of Dostoevsky's writing but of Pushkin, one of Dostoevsky's literary forerunners in Russia, and apparently one who had significant influence on Dostoevsky as well as the wider literary and social fabric of Russia. Likewise, Dostoevsky does wrestle some in these pages with what it means to live for Christ or according to Christ, but his faith isn't probed too deeply. I was hoping for more of an investigation into what he believed and how that impacted and was showcased in his writing and thinking. And while I wasn't looking for a deep psychoanalysis of Dostoevsky's religious affectations, and was certainly not hoping for an evangelical hagiography, I wanted more here.

I want to close with a few positive notes, though, so that my review doesn't slant too negatively. What Leithart does give us is a relatively clear picture of Dostoevsky's social vision, or maybe more properly, his vision for what Russian society should be under Christ. And in this encounter, we get a fell for how his convictions about Christ came to bear in a socially prophetic way in the fight for the identity of the Russian soul. And that clearly has value. And as I mentioned before, this book is well written, and was enjoyable to read. Thanks to Thomas Nelson and the BookSneeze program for the review copy.

November 04, 2011

Great deal on new Eerdmans resource

Eerdmans just released their much-anticipated (and long awaited) new introductory Bible resource, The Eerdmans Companion to the Bible. Nijay Gupta has a brief review that gives some info about its contents, an appreciation for what it accomplishes, and also some helpful notes about it's level (it's a more introductory resource than most that they publish, but it seems to be rather erudite, even though pretty basic). And to make things even better, Amazon currently has it listed at just over $20, basically half off: The Eerdmans Companion to the Bible So if you've been awaiting this one, or are in need of a good introductory work, get it while it's discounted.