Compared to the number of books I actually read, I don’t write many reviews. When I write a review, I like to thoughtfully interact with the book. To be honest, I am often just too lazy to put forth the effort. With excuses aside, here are several mini reviews of books on related topics – the apostle Paul and the doctrine of justification.
Illustrated Life of Paul by Charles Quarles (B&H Academic, 2014). This is a 270-page biography of the apostle Paul. Note it is published by the academic arm of B&H, but I found it very readable. Quarles follows the Scripture carefully to reconstruct the chronological life of Paul. He brings in other information that is known from geography, archaeology, and other historical sources – in order to shed light on aspects of Paul’s life that would not otherwise be apparent to us because we live 2,000 years later and in a different part of the world. Why is it entitled “illustrated”? Because there are maps, landscape photography, artwork, and such. These various aspects truly helped bring Paul, his teachings, and his world to life. It was worth the read, and I recommend it.
Making Sense of Paul, A Basic Introduction to Pauline Theology by Virginia Wiles (Hendrickson Publishers, 2000). This book was apparently birthed from a class the author taught at the secular undergrad level. It is really a detailed book on Paul’s theology, but it is written with the assumption that the student may literally have NO familiarity with Christianity at all. Does this mean there is no value in the book for those with more advanced understanding of Christianity? No. I found it a helpful book. Familiarity can create blindness, and the author’s way of explaining things on a basic level gave me fresh perspective and understanding. Because it was written as a text, the book has questions and exercises to help the reader interact with the material. The author does have a unique way of approaching certain aspects of Paul’s theology, and several times I worried she was drifting into “liberal” interpretation but she would bring it back around – and I thought the gospel was made clear. She did have an odd explanation of righteousness as God’s covenant faithfulness. As chance would have it, in another book I’m reading by Schreiner, he mentions this view and explains the problems with it. I’d never heard of it before, so it was interesting to suddenly bump into it in 2 books. Anyways, overall I recommend this book.
Well that book by Schreiner. Faith Alone, The Doctrine of Justification by Thomas Schreiner (Zondervan, 2015). Part of “The 5 Solas Series.” I am actually only about 70% through this book so perhaps I should not review it yet. This is not by the academic arm of Zondervan, but it sure seems to be academic to me! This is a comprehensive book on the doctrine of justification. The book has 3 parts. The first is historical and explains the views of key historical church leaders or theologians on justification – in the early church, and then later people such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathon Edwards, John Wesley. The Council of Trent is discussed. The second part of the book (I’m still in this part) carefully interacts with the Scripture, and the various words, concepts, and interpretive issues that must be understood as one considers justification. The final part of the book (not there yet) addresses contemporary challenges to the doctrine of justification – such as the New Perspective on Paul. So far, I appreciate this book – particularly because I have recently had the desire to delve into the great doctrine of justification. While readable, it definitely qualifies as academic to me, and thus I would only recommend it to other academic or detail minded people.
The Justification Reader by Thomas Oden ( Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002). This is a “reader” – meaning you read many excerpts from the writing of others – which in this case is primarily the writings of early church Fathers (the first 500 years of the church) but the Reformers as well. Oden, of course, interacts with the excerpts. Justification was not expounded upon in detail in the early church, primarily because there was no need to do so. (Other Christological and Trinitarian controversies were pressing.) However, that does not mean the doctrine of justification was not addressed. Apparently there is a perspective that after the apostle Paul’s emphasis on justification in the New Testament, the great doctrine fell silent or disappeared until is was re-discovered in the Reformation. Oden’s argument or point in this book is to demonstrate that the doctrine was indeed held in the opening 500 years of the church. Partly he is trying to address a problem with Protestant pride – and partly to create unity among the 3 branches of Christendom. All branches can look to the early church, and not be fixated on 16th century polemics. Oden states his thesis is as follows: “I am contrasting the unity of the first five centuries on justification teaching with the disunity of the last five centuries on justification teaching.” You might think this book sounds dull, but I appreciated many straight-forward statements on justification and our salvation. I’ll close this post with a sampling:
- On why the doctrine of justification is a blessing: “Your life is not trapped in the deceit that comes from defensive self-justification.”
- Why do we resist the good news of justification? “The message of justification is difficult to accept because it seems to good to be true. It says: stop trying to justify yourself. You do not need to. There is no way to buy or deserve God’s love or acceptance. You are already being offered God’s love on the cross without having to jump hoops or pass tests.”
- “Justification is best understood in direct contrast with condemnation. Those justified are not condemned. Those not justified are condemned. There is no middle way (Matt 12:37), no way to stand as partly justified. To justify is to liberate totally and once for all the offender…”
- “But how can God remain holy if sin is easily dismissed? That is just the point: it is not an easy dismissal. It required a cross, a death, a burial. The cross is a sacrificial offering that substitutes Christ’s goodness for our sin.”