Some might argue that I’m a little late to the game on this book, and it’s companion volume on the Old Testament (both published in 2016), but a useful resource is a useful resource, and thats why I’m reviewing A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized. This is one of a pair of two books published by Crossway in 2016, featuring essays on each of the biblical books, written predominantly by scholars associated with Reformed Theological Seminary in the USA. Whilst that might put some readers off, it shouldn’t, as this is a winsome set of Reformed voices, clear on what they think, but respectful of those that disagree, and engaging carefully with a range of critical arguments. This review collects my brief comments on each chapter – and closes with some thoughts about the book as a whole.
The Gospels and Acts
Kidd opens with Matthew, noting the gospel’s “finely balanced sense of Jesus’ mission”. Having just devotionally studied Matthew with the help of Harrington’s Sacra Pagina (Which I didn’t really rate) and Wilson’s new Eerdmans Critical Commentary (which I found useful) I agree with Kidd’s assessment of Matthew’s literary skill. Gladd tackles Mark with the skill I’d expect. Packs a range of approaches in to a very helpful chapter. Helpful reminder that “we need to distinguish between the gospel proper (Christ’s death and resurrection), and the effects or implications of the gospel (the kingdom, the new creation, etc.)”. Enjoyed the closing words: “Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection have liberated the covenant community from sin and estrangement from God. Mark beckons his readers to believe this message, and thereby to join the redeemed“. Cara masterfully condenses millions of words of scholarship in his helpful summary of Luke. Helpful and calmly and firmly conservative. Kruger tackles John, my favorite gospel (or, at least, the one I’ve spent the most time in and with). “Theology and history are not necessarily exclusive”. I appreciated his emphasis on the kingship of Christ. “If one preaches the main themes of John’s Gospel, then that sermon series will capture all of Christ’s offices in a balanced and multifaceted manner”. Amen! A cracking chapter – one I will return to. Cara returns on Acts – good to have the same author focusing on both parts of Luke/Acts (or Luke ‘and’ Acts). “The book of Acts is a theological interpret of the history of the first three decades of the early church”. Helpful overview of different outlines. Somewhat surprisingly excludes Keeners work on Acts.
The Pauline Epistles
Waters does a solid intro to Romans, offering ‘glory’ as a one word summary, which is something I will be thinking about when I study the book devotionally, soon. Waters covers both 1+2 Corinthians well. “Part of this project is Paul’s helping the Corinthians to understand their place in redemptive history”. Also, “Paul does not view the death of Christ in isolation from his resurrection”. Amen! A helpful chapter, linking to Gladd’s comments on Mark, quoted above. Waters covers Galatians – “a passionate production” – in a similar calm and competent way to preceding chapters. For a shorter episode these 20 pages serve as a mini-commentary – emphasizing the utility of this volume to help pastors build a library. Waters continues on into Ephesians. Again calm and clear – robust conservative clarity on authorship. Helpful comments on Trinitarian content. He describes Ephesians as “one of the richest summaries of ‘the gospel of salvation’ that survives from Paul’s pen”. Lowe’s chapter on Philippians is good, doing a particularly strong job of bringing out the theme of partnership/friendship in the Gospel. Gladd returns for the entry on Colossians which he opens strongly and continues well. “Paul therefore writes Colossians to correct the Greco-Roman/Jewish heresy and affirm the priority of Christ and the gospel”. Well put together. Cara covers 1+2 Thessalonians in two chapters. The shared focus on eschatology is well noted. Interesting that the NIGTC by Wanamaker doesn’t appear in either select bibliography. Following a helpful introduction to the corpus, Barcley works through the Pastorals. The chapter on 1 Timothy contains a useful ‘A Redemptive-Historical Perspective on False Teachers’ – “love and unity spring from opposing different doctrines and standing firm in the truth”. Section on 1 Tim 2 could be beefed up, particularly with regard to engagement with evangelical scholars who disagree with him. But generally speaking, good chapters in keeping with rest of book. In a short chapter Gladd covers Philemon carefully, drawing from the NT and OT to illuminate Onesimus’s situation. “Now that Christ has come, all of creation has found its end-time unity in him”. Amen!
The Rest of the New Testament
Kistemaker’s essay on Hebrews is good, with a focus on the books unique theme of priesthood. “because of his sonship, Jesus is great, but being High Priest, he is even greater”. Lowe unpacks the book of James with a robust defense of its integrity, theology and authorship. Key takeaway for preachers is an overview of structure – not always easy in James. Barcley engages with 1 Peter, showing its relevance today: “the theme of believers living in this world in the light of the hope of glory” is a vital thing for Christians to remember and preachers to bear in mind. Kistemaker works through 2 Peter, making a solid case for it to be more widely read, taught, and studied. Kistemaker identifies it as “a letter with an eschatological message that amplifies what Jesus said and Paul has written about the end of times” – with particular helpful focus on false teaching. The chapter certainly made me look forward to reading and studying 2 Peter later this year. Hill carefully covers the Johannine epistles – noting connections and distinctions. Truth and deep theology, connected to ethics, runs like a thread through the three. Kistemaker covers Jude, arguing “the heart of Jude is pastoral; he is concerned about the spiritual health of believers whose faith is endangered”. Calm handling of relationship to 2 Peter. “Jude’s message may not be popular in our world today, but it is greatly needed”. Hill gets almost 40 pages to cover Revelation. Regardless of eschatological scheme, he is surely right that the book “provides an essential component for the church’s understanding of life in this world between the two comings of Christ”.
I tweeted whilst reading it that Kruger’s chapter on John is an early contender for a ‘chapter of the year for me’. This is partly because, along with Gladd’s and several other chapters, the volume makes good on the intent of Kruger’s introduction. This is less a collection of essays and more a glimpse of an approach to theological and biblical education. It is an impressive defense if the possibility of pastoral scholarship or scholarly pastoring. Indeed, the appendices repay reading. Kruger gives a good and relatively brief summary of the reasons behind the canon of the NT in appendix A. Hill offers us Appendix B, a concise introduction to New Testament criticism – with a good, calm historical overview of translation and sources. Waters writes a helpful and concise Appendix C – examining the synoptic problem. His closing words sum it up: “we glory in the unshakable certainty that the Gospels are the very Word of God”. Cara closes the appendices with D, ‘The Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament’. There’s also an appendix of scripture versions used, the list of contributors and indices.
In concert with it’s Old Testament sibling, I think this is a really helpful resource, particularly perhaps for a pastor at the start of their ministry, or an occasional preacher (someone like me, preaching a couple of places a couple of times a year) looking to expand outwards from, say a one volume bible dictionary and commentary. In both use cases the volume serves by giving a robust introduction to the book, with key theological themes, and a helpful select bibliography – I’d argue that using a resource like this would be a good way to start building a library of commentaries. For my rather niche needs – I’m the in-house editor on a few Bible commentary series, this is a useful resource for orienting the reader to the shape, content and canonical location of the book. It’s probably a slightly better resource than the Old Testament volume given that it has more room for each book of the Bible to breathe. I hope Crossway will consider updating both volumes in the future, perhaps combining them on thinner paper – but in their current format I strongly recommend this book, and it’s Old Testament sibling.