Tuesday, September 24, 2013

ESV Gospel Transformation Bible

If you run in the T4G/TGC/Challies/Justin Taylor circles you have certainly heard about the "Gospel-Centered" hermeneutic. Crossway produced this study Bible to help us to be Gospel-Centered by showing us Christ in all of Scripture. Unlike some study Bibles, you've probably even heard of some of the contributors. There are men like Miles Van Pelt (Kings and Chronicles), Michael Horton (Joshua), Darrin Patrick (Zephaniah), Kevin DeYoung (Ephesians), and JD Greear (Titus) as well as women like Elyse Fitzpatrick (Esther). The contributors include a mixture of scholars and popular authors. All their contributions went through the editing of Brian Chapell and Dane Ortlund. I recognized about 2/3 of the names and they are all very solid, conservative evangelical voices.

The book itself is quite striking. The hardcover is black with red and black stitching in the Smyth-sewn binding.  The pastedowns and flyleaves are also a brilliant blood red. The Bible text is in the familiar Lexicon font, while the study notes are in Gotham. This gives it a fresh look from other study Bibles I've used. I rather liked it, despite the two-column format, which really can't be helped in a work like this. It really is a beautiful book. It also has the standard features you'd expect from an ESV such as maps in the back, the ESV reading plan, and even a topical index.

Of course, all this is meaningless if the content doesn't match the beauty of the book. To me, the biggest red flag when thinking about a "Gospel-Centered" hermeneutic comes in the story of the floating axe head in 2 Kings 6. There are some who say that the floating axe head reminds us of baptism while the stick Elisha used reminds us of the cross. The editors make a point in the introduction that they would not allow baseless allegories to dominate the notes, and they were true to their word. Nothing like that can be found in this story. Instead, the note I see is on 6:15-17, which is the story of Elisha's servant having his eyes opened to see the chariots of fire around the city. The note makes the point that we say that we would have more faith if we could just see like that, but then reminds us that we already have in the Incarnation of Christ. That is a wonderful way to apply this story.

But what about a book that seems less practical for living like Leviticus? Just about every page has a note and they deal with how the sacrifices in Leviticus point forward to the ultimate sacrifice Christ paid on the cross. The notes also emphasize the problem of sin, which is why we needed to have sacrifices. There is a note on 5:14-6:7 which connects the laws for guilt offerings with how Paul applies this to believers in 1 Corinthians 6:18 and Ephesians 1:7. There is a note on 13:1-14:57, which describes the laws about leprosy. This note reminds us of how Christ dealt with this impurity by simply touching the diseased person and making him clean. There are notes that discuss how the atoning sacrifices in Leviticus point us to the atonment that happened for believers at the cross. There are notes that show how the Israelites were to be different from the other nations just as Christians are to be different from unbelievers today. In short, these notes take what is often seen as an esoteric book and make it intensely practical for us today.

Anyone who has studied Hebrews probably already knows that Leviticus points us pretty clearly to Christ, but what about something harder like Proverbs? Take Proverbs 15:15 which reads, All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast. I don't immediately see the gospel in this, but the note reminds me that the joy of Christ is ultimate and victorious. In other words, there may be real sorrow in this world, but the Christian has ultimate hope and joy in Christ. Again, this is a very solid, sane way of looking at this verse. I don't think it is a stretch at all to get that from this verse.

The New Testament notes are just as good. The note on Romans 9:19-24 reminds us of the comfort that we have in knowing that God is absolutely sovereign over our salvation, whether we fully understand how it all works or not. The note on Ephesians 2:4-5 reminds us that "We were not strugglers in need of a helping hand or sinking swimmers in need of a raft; we were stone-cold dead--spiritually lifeless, without a religious pulse, without anything to please God. But he loves the loveless, gives life to the lifeless, and is merciful to those deserving no mercy." The note on Revelation 20:1-10 doesn't get into debates on the millenium, but stresses the need for the believer to remain vigilant. While I certainly didn't read every note, all the notes I did read were similarly excellent.

As you can see, the notes in this Bible are extremely practical for the believer without getting into the foolishness of "4 steps to a better marriage" that pervades so many pulpits today. Many may wonder how to make "Gospel-Centered" preaching relevant to the 21st century ear. I would recommend that they read through this bible to get their answer. In fact, I would recommend this bible to anyone who wants to have all of Scripture come alive for them.

The closest analogy I can think of is that this is like the Jesus Storybook Bible, but for grown-ups. I loved reading that bible to my kids when they were little because it edified me to see how all the familiar stories pointed to Christ. Go much deeper with that concept and you have the heart of the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible. I remember pre-ordering the ESV Study Bible and being thrilled when I got it. But since going to seminary I really don't use it that much because I can look in commentaries to go even deeper. This bible shines because it is more pastoral than it is scholarly. I think that I will refer to it many times in the future because of how well it feeds my heart.

Note - the publisher gave me a copy to review.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Kingdom Through Covenant

I attended a Dispensational seminary, but am not a Dispensationalist. I have some Covenantal leanings, but I remain firmly credobaptist. I have found that I have more in common with Presbyterians than most Baptists, but I keep seeing comments that "there is no such thing as a Reformed Baptist." Obviously, that is true, but I needed to have some name for what I believed.

I am extremely thankful for the book Kingdom Through Covenant. Gentry and Wellum wanted to use this book to propose a middle way between the two systems. They acknowledge the strength of both systems, but also point out some glaring weaknesses. Much of these problems center around the Abrahamic Covenant. They rightly point out that each system chooses which part they will take literally. The Dispensationalist focuses on the land promise to Abraham and the Covenantalist focuses on the genealogical promise. This book shows how both miss the mark in ignoring the whole promise.

The book is strongest in parts one and three, which were written by Wellum. Part one presents their thesis and hermenutic while part three summarizes how it all fits together based on all the exegesis done in part two. You really could get away with checking this book out from your local seminary library and reading just those parts. That would save you about 460 pages of very technical writing leaving you with about 250 very readable pages.

I would not recommend part two for anyone who does not know Hebrew. Although there is a lot of transliteration there is also a fair amount of straight Hebrew text. Obviously a book focused on exegesis is going to have to deal with the language, so be warned that this section is not for the casual reader. Be prepared for some tough sledding through this section. I saw in another review where someone wrote that the middle sections felt like disconnected papers. I suppose that is true to a degree, but that's also the nature of such academic work. Despite the difficulties, this part is essential for proving the authors' thesis. I believe that they accomplished their goal.

I particularly appreciated their point that the Dispensational distinction between conditional and unconditional covenants is an unnecessary one. It was also valuable to see how the physical promise of the land to Abraham has already been fulfilled, but that the promise is actually much bigger in how God is going to give the whole earth to Abraham's children. In other words, to get all excited about a strip of land in the Middle East is to miss the bigger promise. It is also encouraging to see them make some distinction between Israel and the church. The church is indeed a new thing that, unlike Israel, is composed entirely of believers.

I suppose I'm somewhat biased because I wanted to like this book. I finally have a book that describes what I have come to believe on my own. It is possible to be strongly Calvinistic in soteriology, but strongly Baptist when it comes to the ordinances and the composition of the church. I still find that I have more in common with Covenantal brothers than most Baptists, but I am glad to have this middle way. When you're not in a large camp it is comforting to know that you are not on your own.