Review: D. A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Praying with Paul (Baker Academic)

When I first became a Christian the primary way that I learned to pray was by praying the prayers in Scripture. Sometimes I prayed them word-for-word, but often I would take texts as launching points and then move on to pray in my own words according to the structure, content, and principle illuminated in them. Though I later made two Christian friends who prayed amazingly eloquent and Spirit-filled (not pretentious) prayers, in my early months as a Christian I didn't encounter a pray-er whose praying I wanted to emulate. I don't think my struggle to find a model of prayer outside the Bible is uncommon. Cartoonist Adam Ford has humorously portrayed the way many Christians pray in a comic titled, “If we talked to people the way we talk to God” (see comic to right).

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Review: Joshua Ryan Butler’s The Skeletons in God’s Closet (Thomas Nelson)

One of the most perennially difficult questions concerning God is related to His goodness: How can He be good when suffering and evil exist? Isn't God a sadistic, egomaniacal monster for sending countless people to the torture chamber of hell for refusing to worship Him? How could He command the Israelites to slaughter the Caananites in the Old Testament? These are not only some of the biggest objections non-Christians have to the Christian faith, but they are issues Christians struggle and wrestle with as well. In The Skeletons in God's Closet, Joshua Ryan Butler offers a fresh approach to answering these questions by confronting the popular caricatures of hell, judgment, and holy war and demonstrating that in the actual photographs God is good. While we tend to think that hell, judgment, and holy war are the skeletons in God's closet, Butler shows us that when properly understood, these difficult topics show that God is good to His very bones.

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Review: Robert A. Peterson’s Salvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with Christ (Crossway)

Union with Christ was integral in the soteriology of the Reformers, and especially that of Calvin. As Marcus Peter Johnson notes in One With Christ, “when Calvin wrote of being united to Christ, he meant that believers are personally joined to the living, incarnate, crucified, resurrected Jesus...this union with Christ, which Calvin described in strikingly graphic and intimate terms, constituted for him the very essence of salvation. To be saved by Christ, Calvin kept insisting, means to be included in the person of Christ. That is what salvation is” (Johnson 12, emphasis original). And it wasn't just a heady doctrine, either; for the Reformers, union with Christ had multifaceted implications for the life of the believer and the life of the Church. Many, myself included, can attest to a fundamental change in personal spirituality as well as approach to life and ministry upon discovering and plunging the depths of the doctrine of union with Christ. I've therefore been delighted by the steady stream of excellent books on the topic in recent years (e.g. R. Letham, J. Billings, M. Johnson, C. Campbell, G. Macaskill, etc), many written from a Reformed perspective. Naturally, I was very eager to read the latest offering from Robert Peterson, Salvation Applied by the Spirit: Union with Christ.

Structurally this book is similar to the volumes in Crossway's Theology in Community series, with a bulk of the book (twenty chapters in this case) providing a sweeping overview of what the entire Bible has to say about the topic. Then a chapter is devoted to a biblical theology of union with Christ, followed by seven chapters treating the doctrine from a systematic perspective.

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Review: Trevor Burke’s Adopted into God's Family

The Old and New Testaments speak about the relationship between God and His people in a many ways. The Apostle Paul in particular employed a rich vocabulary from which theologians have systematized the doctrine of salvation—election , justification, redemption, reconciliation to start. Yet theologians have neglected one significant Pauline metaphor in comparison—adoption (Gk. υἱοθεσία, transl. huiothesia). Trevor Burke's thesis in this volume from IVP Academic's New Studies in Biblical Theology series is “if adoption is important and distinct enough from other soteriological terms in the thinking and theology of Paul, then it is worthy of greater consideration. Rather than adoption being regarded as on the periphery of Paul's theological agenda, it should occupy a more vital role in our theological reflection and understanding” (28).


To begin Adopted into God's Family, Burke examines how adoption has been misunderstood (Chapter 1). For example, adoption was mistakenly conflated with justification (by, for example, stalwarts of Reformed theology such as Francis Turretin and Louis Berkhof and contemporary theologians such as Anthony Hoekema) and sometimes subsumed under regeneration (by, for example, Abraham Kuyper). Burke subsequently demonstrates briefly that previous scholarship on Pauline adoption has also erred by focusing mainly on background. While background is undeniably important, this focus has left other vital and interesting aspects of Pauline adoption largely overlooked and unexplored. “One of the main aims of this study on adoption is to attempt to widen the discussion and open up fresh areas of debate” (30).

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Review: Paul A. Rainbow’s Johannine Theology

In both the church and the academy, the Johannine corpus stands in the shadows of the Pauline. From the pulpit, preachers proclaim Paul’s primacy having composed one-third of the New Testament. I’ve wondered why the same voices didn’t marvel at John’s contribution of one-fifth. In the scholarly literature, it may seem like books and articles dealing with the New Perspective on Paul alone surpass the treatments on Johannine theology.

Not only did John contribute as much to the canon as Paul, but the former’s biblical writings span three different genres (gospel, epistle, and apocalypse) whereas all of Paul’s are epistles. This is not to downplay the Pauline corpus or to pit the two against each other. They both are the inspired Word of God. Both are profitable to the soul and necessary to study. It does point out the surprising disparity in attention. Whereas treatments of Pauline theology that deal with his entire corpus abound, the same cannot be said of Johannine theology. In contemporary New Testament scholarship, a Johannine theology covering the entire corpus is missing.

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Review: G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd’s Hidden But Now Revealed

The past few months have seen the release of several books co-authored by G. K. Beale, who needs no introduction:

I want to read everything Beale writes, but out of these three I was most excited about Hidden But Now Revealed because of the presence of biblical theology in the title.

Co-written with Dr. Benjamin Gladd, who wrote his doctoral dissertation under Beale at Wheaton on the use of mystery in Daniel and Second Temple Judaism, Hidden But Now Revealed explores the biblical conception of mystery, a term found in conjunction with key doctrines such as eschatology, soteriology, relationship between Jew and Gentile, etc. in the New Testament. The authors’ goal for this book is that “the church would gain a greater appreciation for the concept of mystery and the intersection of the Old and New Testament. The gospel itself contains both ‘old’ and ‘new’ elements that stand in continuity and discontinuity with the Old Testament” (8). In this study, mystery is defined generally as “the revelation of God’s partially hidden wisdom, particularly as it concerns events occurring in the ‘latter days'” (20).

It begins with a look at the use of mystery in the book of Daniel, where “Revelation of a mystery can be defined roughly as God fully disclosing wisdom about end-time events that were mostly hitherto unknown” (43). The second chapter continues providing background into the New Testament’s use of mystery by analyzing the use of mystery in early Judaism, looking at a few key texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Targums. Like in the book of Daniel, mystery in Second Temple Judaism is eschatological and characterized by an initial hidden revelation followed by a fuller interpretation.

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Review: Michael Bird’s The Gospel of the Lord

I’m fairly certain that Michael Bird publishes more books per year than the average person reads. But it’s not just the quantity of his output that’s impressive—the depth and quality across a wide range of topics (e.g. 1 Esdras, Pauline studies, historical Jesus, Christology, systematic theology, etc.) is just as notable. And sprinkled throughout his excellent scholarship is always a generous dash of humor. Bird’s latest The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus is “concerned primarily with the questions of how the Gospels came to be, what kinds of literature they are, and how they relate to Christian discourse about God” (viii). Hence it’s not a gospels survey, as it doesn’t deal with issues typically found in books on the gospels such as provenance, content overview, and life of Christ. “Primarily this volume is focused on the origins and development of the books we call ‘Gospels’ in the context of the early church” (ix).


After some introductory remarks, the first issue The Gospel of the Lord tackles is the purpose and preservation of the Jesus tradition. Some of the questions addressed are: “Why did Jesus’s followers attempt to keep his teachings alive, tell stories about him, and narrate the story of his death and resurrection? In addition, did they transmit these stories and traditions in a way that faithfully communicated what actually happened?” (22).

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Review: Jason S. Sexton’s Two Views on the Doctrine of the Trinity

The doctrine of the Trinity is essential to the Christian faith and to an orthodox and full understanding of the attributes and works of God, especially the Trinitarian work of salvation. Yet, this key doctrine has seen little engagement beyond the patristic era. That is, until recently. Following the revival in Trinitarian thought largely led by Karl Barth, “The second half of the twentieth century saw a different kind of Trinitarian theology developing, giving way to what we will refer to broadly as the relational doctrine of the Trinity” (14). Naturally, the proliferation of relational models has stimulated robust responses from classical Trinitarians.

These explorations and debates have largely been confined to academic circles and dense monographs. However, as popular level books (such as Fred Sanders’s The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything) are rightfully calling the people in the pew back to a more explicit and robust Trinitarianianism, resources are needed to provide accessible backgrounds to and summaries of recent developments in Trinitarian theology.

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