A batch of bite-size reviews

Back in the pandemic year of 2020, I read quite a few more books than expected – and some folk appreciated the ‘bite size reviews backlog‘ post I did, to capture some thoughts, but also free up reading/writing time. I’ve got myself too large a pile of books I’d like to say something about, now, so here’s another batch of bite-size reviews.

Walter Brueggeman, The Message of the Psalms – a theological commentary

This older short book (<200pp) is less a theological commentary (in that it doesn’t really comment on every part of the Psalter, but rather it’s overal shape and themes) and more a theological readers introduction. It was recommended to me by someone whose work on the Psalms I’ll be editing – and I think it is a fascinating book. You don’t have to agree with Brueggeman on everything to appreciate what he’s done here in terms of reading the Psalms cohesively and honestly. A challenging and well written book, it’s something I’d recommend alongside more traditional commentaries for someone thoughtfully preaching the Psalms, and certainly for those thinking theologically about the Psalter. 4/5.

Nijay K. Gupta, Tell Her Story: How Women Led, Taught, and Ministered in the Early Church

A relatively short book on a perennially important – and divisive – topic. Gupta brings his expertise as a New Testament scholar to bear on a range of issues and texts. I think this is a helpful representation of the egalitarian perspective – in my view it is a useful companion, more focused on the New Testament, to Lucy Peppiatt’s excellent ‘Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women‘. Gupta is probably unlikely to persuade those committed to Complementarianism (if that’s you, then I would encourage/challenge you to read and engage with Andrew Bartlett’s ‘Men and Women in Christ’, which is robust, calm, and more textually detalied) but for those on the fence, or who think they are Egalitarians but want a richer biblical/New Testament basis, Tell Her Story is a short and readable book that could be a real gift. 4/5

Christopher C. H. Cook, Isabelly Hamley & John Swinton, Struggling with God: Mental Health and Christian Spirituality

Behind this lovely cover is a complex, enigmatic and well written book. Some really helpful stuff, some slightly ambiguous or unclear fudging. Will be a useful tool for leaders, and the more theologically minded strugglers amongst us. Helpful on prayer and honest about the realities of human struggle. Would pair well with Swinton’s solo ‘Finding Jesus in the Storm‘, and Sharon Hastings superb ‘Wrestling With My Thoughts’. Overall a 4/5

Charles B. Cousar, Philippians and Philemon (New Testament Library)

This very short commentary is perfectly workmanlike but rather unexciting – it is in my view too short to say much, particularly on Philemon where it feels cursory. On Philippians I would recommend Jeannine K. Brown’s recent Tyndale New Testament Commentary and Hansen’s Pillar, whilst on Philemon I’ve been impressed by G. K. Beale’s new Baker Exegetical on Colossians and Philemon (Alan Thompson’s new Tyndale on the same pair, as well as the previous Wright volume, would also be more useful, in my view). 3/5

Peter Thein Nyunt, Missions amidst Pagodas

The Langham Monograph series is one that I value for making the scholarship of the global evangleical  church more accessible to readers like me – and Nyunt’s work on contextual mission in the Burmese Buddhist context is one that I wouldn’t have heard of or even read, had it not been for Langham’s work. This short-ish (152p) book is an adaptation of a thesis, but is very readable, and would be a useful thing for those working in Buddhist contexts, or seeking to evangelise Buddhist folk, to read. Nyunt helpfuly explains some of the cutlural and ideological forces at play – and encourages churches to pursue an every-member model of mission. His conclusion notes that Christians are well placed to reach lower-class Buddhists, but not middle and upper-class – a fascinating reflection that has got me thinking about class in my own British post-Christian context. A helpful and thought-provoking book. 4/5

Tiberius Rata, Ezra & Nehemiah (Mentor Commentary)

Whilst the first time reading a volume from a commentary series I haven’t encountered before would normally prompt a full review, in this case I haven’t, partly because I’m dipping into various things about Ezra/Nehemiah, and partly because I found Hannah K. Harrington’s newer NICOT volume significantly more helpful. This Mentor volume was surprisingly compact – at around 270 pages it had the opportunity to be concise – but in my opinion was not a strong volume. Large font and other strange formatting choices meant it often felt cursory – and the commentary in general didn’t feel that useful. The introduction, however, particularly at under 40 pages, was quite good, and so if you are towards the more conservative end of things, this might be a useful commentary, though I’d recommend Derek Kidner’s, and it’s forthcoming replacement, in this sort of length, and Harrington’s aforementioned NICOT if you want something comprehensive. 3/5

Ros Clarke, Human

Ros Clarke might be known to readers of this blog as author of a Lent book that I edited, Forty Women. In Human, (Which was published by IVP but a book that I didn’t edit, nor even read until it was about to come out) Ros tackles what it means to be human, in line with the theme of the 2023 Keswick Convention. Being the Keswick theme book means there are discussion questions, etc, but that doesn’t stop this being a really excellent little primer on God’s view of human identity. Ros writes as though she enjoys writing (not always the case in books, I think), has clearly engaged deeply and carefully with a range of issues, and has a very human and pastoral winsomeness. She’s not afraid to tackle big questions, and I think this book deserves a wide readership. 5/5

George Guthrie, 2 Corinthians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

I like the BECNT series (and it’s Old Testament counterpart, the Genesis volume of which I reviewed early this year), and 2 Corinthians is growing on me in terms of Epistles that I find particularly spiritually nourishing. Guthrie writes well, engages robustly with the Greek, and in my view strikes a helpful balance between engagement with secondary sources, and sticking to the text at hand. It would be a solid choice for pastors and preachers wanting something more substantial as an aid to sermon preparation. 4/5


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