Category Archives: Book Reviews

Review of “A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament” edited by Michael Kruger (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016)

Today I will be reviewing the second installment of a two-part Biblical Theology collection published by Crossway. A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament is a collection of essays written by the past and present members of the faculty of Reformed Theological Seminary. It shares many traits in common with the Old Testament volume so I would encourage you to check out my review before proceeding here.

In the introductory essay by editor Michael Kruger, he identifies several features of this collection of essays which are of note. First, it is accessible. By this, he means that it does not require a technical knowledge to make use of this volume. Issues like dating are generally left to an appendix, there is a general lack of discussion regarding Greek, and there is a premium placed on more applicable aspects of the text. Second, it is theological. “Because this volume is designed primarily to help pastors and Bible study leaders prepare their sermons or lessons, a higher priority is placed on exploring the message of each New Testament book.” (loc 437) That is one of the primary strengths of this book, is that a pastor can simply read through an essay regarding the book he is working on and already have a good idea of the main themes and structure of the book. When he then goes to more technical commentaries, he already has the foundational aspects of the whole book in mind. Thirdly, it is redemptive-historical. Now, this is a term that can mean different things to different people. What is meant in this volume is that the authors of each essay are intentionally showing “how each book contributes to the fulfillment of God’s salvific plan. In particular, such an approach would focus on how Old Testament history, types, and shadows all find their fulfillment in the person and work of Christ.” (loc 475) Finally, it is Reformed. This was a breath of fresh air for me. It is not the case that there is an absence of good Reformed commentaries, but the fact is that when writing an essay, to properly source your thoughts one often must look outside the Reformed tradition. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but when preparing for a sermon it can be cumbersome to sift through the chaff to find that kernel of wheat. Knowing that these essays were prepared by men who have studied and been approved for Gospel ministry in a Reformed context is incredibly helpful. Fourthly, it is multiauthored. Kruger offers some commentary on the strengths and weaknesses of such an approach, but I will leave the reader to his thoughts on that. Finally, he notes that it is pastoral. “As noted above, the real purpose of this volume is to help Bible study leaders, pastors, and Christian leaders to teach and apply the Word of God to their respective audiences.” (loc 549)

Rather than spend time exploring the specifics of each essay, or even the specific of any one essay, I will make some brief comments. Each essay is valuable in its own right, and I would commend this work as an addition to the library of any pastor or biblical student. Not only that, but it is approachable enough that any adult Christian reader would benefit from a run through this and the accompanying Old Testament volume. The varied style of each essay, although basically structurally the same, I found to be somewhat distracting. This is mostly a reader preference, and not necessarily a weakness of the book, but it is important to know this going into the text. For those who may find this problematic, I would suggest not reading the book sequentially, as I did for review purposes. That isn’t really the intention of the book anyway, so that isn’t an issue. That said, the essays were all excellent, and I particularly enjoyed the essay on Hebrews by Simon Kistemaker.

Kruger, Michael, ed. A Biblical-Theological introduction to the New Testament. Kindle Edition. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016.

Please Note: The publisher has provided me with an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Review of “Saving Calvinism” by Oliver Crisp (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016)

I recently received a copy of Oliver Crisp‘s new book, Saving Calvinism. The book is a work of analytic theology, with a dash of historical theology mixed in, and stands in continuity with his previous work Deviant Calvinism. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014)

The basic thesis of the book is that Calvinism —or Reformed theology, he distinguishes the two in the introduction but indicates that he will be using them interchangeably in a sort of colloquial sense— often falls victim to what he sees as legitimate critiques regarding its doctrine of God and soteriology. However, so says Crisp, the Reformed tradition has resources within it which serve to answer those critiques, but due to the rise of the New Calvinism (which he identifies primarily as those who affirm TULIP, but not much else), are not usually recognized as Calvinism.

This thesis very similar to the core argument of Deviant Calvinism which argued that several wings of the Reformed tradition exist which were deviant, but were none-the-less Calvinistic.

The basic structure of each chapter follows the same pattern. Crisp describes the dominant Reformed position, summarizes the common critique, and our author reaches into a corner of Reformed history to explain how a given form of Calvinism can address the critique. This pattern is effective if someone accepts his premise that this fringe position reflects a legitimate form of Reformed thought.

However, that is where the work often fails. Although Crisp does demonstrate, usually, that the given position falls within the history of the Reformed camp, this usually is only due to its origin. One of his more outrageous examples is that he considers Arminianism a form of deviant Calvinism because Arminius came out of the Reformed tradition. Crisp applies this same line of thinking to figures like Karl Barth and Friedrich Schleiermacher. This sort of reverse genetic fallacy is only a very superficial form of historical rooting, and having read Crisp in other areas, he is capable of a better argument.

Overall, the general aims of Crisp’s project are commendable. He believes that Calvinism has been artificially restricted to the so-called five points, and wants people to return to the broader tradition. He also desires to see the tradition rooted in Confessionalism, about which I certainly cannot complain. However, his conclusions seem suspicious to me. In both this work and Deviant Calvinism he seems too particularly (forgive the pun) focused on the Particularism of the majority report. This focus takes the form of arguing that Universalism and Reformed soteriology are compatible, undercutting the traditional doctrines of penal substitution and limited atonement, and a favorable disposition toward Karl Barth.

Additionally, and this is more a result of the analytical method than Crisp himself, he tends to phrase everything in overly tentative ways. “It may be the case that…” is a common phrase, and serves to introduce a theology that the majority of Reformed thinkers reject, in a way that cannot be disproven. For example, he says that it may be the case that God has provided a way for those dying to be presented the Gospel immediately by God and to repent in a way that is not outwardly visible to human observers, thereby allowing the doctrine of Predestination to be compatible with Universalism. Sure, it may be the case, but as Crisp himself even says, we have no good reason to think that it is. In this way, he is very similar to Barth in that he seems to be arguing for a position without actually arguing for it. It is difficult to see how, given this phrasing, we could rule any position out.

Finally, understanding that this is not a work of systematic theology, Crisp engages in surprisingly little exegetical work. In chapter 6 he provides only a few example passages and even comments that this is not a sufficient exegetical basis to form an argument, but then proceeds to form an argument. Combined with the slippery “It may be the case” methodology above, it makes for a book that leaves the reader grasping for something concrete.

Please Note: The publisher has provided a copy of this book for review purposes.

Book Review: The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield

EVA06BH_200x1000One cannot overestimate the impact that evangelist George Whitefield had. As soon as someone thinks they have a grip on things, they recognize that his influence is far more expansive than they first believed. This influence, as well as the biographical account of Whitefield’s life, is the subject of the Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield by Steve J. Lawson, published by Reformation Trust.

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Book Review: Who is the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit, and the theological loci pneumatology, is easily the most neglected member of the Trinity. Most Christians are aware that there is a Holy Spirit, but their knowledge goes little further than that. Other Christians have an unhealthy imbalance that leads them to over-emphasize the third Person of the Trinity. In Who is the Holy Spirit? by R.C. Sproul this sometimes enigmatic Person is explained in another short entry in the Crucial Questions series.

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Book Review: The Mighty Weakness of John Knox

John Knox was an absolute giant of the Reformation, and a staple of Reformed thought. Surprisingly, this is the first direct interaction I’ve had with Knox, beyond the occasional quote or reference in another work. In the Mighty Weakness of John Knox, Douglas Bond explores the life and contribution of John Knox as the catalyst and driving figure of the Scottish Reformation.

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Book Review: What is the Church?

As a young theologian I found that ecclesiology was something that I felt was missing in my experience of Protestantism. As I began to study more, I found this to be more and more the case. Although Protestants could say that they understood that the Church wasn’t simply a building they met in, or a localized group of Christians, I found that often they lived as though it were. Today I’ll be reviewing What is the Church? by R.C. Sproul, an entry in the Crucial Questions series.

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