Matthew R. Perry

Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Did Don Piper’s “90 Minutes in Heaven” Reflect the Biblical Heaven?

In Book Review on March 2, 2008 at 3:53 pm

Recently, someone let me borrow a book called 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper. The premise of the book is that Don Piper, a Baptist minister, was in a horrendous car accident and was dead for 90 minutes. During that time, according to Piper, he was in heaven. He spoke of its beauty, of seeing relatives and loved ones, and how the place almost overwhelmed the senses.

What interested me was his chapter on heavenly music. Praise was everywhere, he said, filling his heart with the deepest of joy. But what really caught my attention was his remark on p. 35:

Many of the old hymns and choruses I had sung at various times in my life were part of the music — along with hundreds of songs I had never heard before. Hymns of praise, modern-sounding choruses, and ancient chants filled my ears and brought not only a deep peace but the greatest feeling of joy I’ve ever experienced.

As I stood before the gate, I didn’t think of it, but later realized that I didn’t hear such songs as “The Old Rugged Cross” or “The Nail-Scarred Hand.” None of the hymns that filled the air were about Jesus’ sacrifice or death. I heard no sad songs and instinctively knew that there were no sad songs in heaven. Why would there by? All were praises about Christ’s reign as King of Kings and our joyful worship for all he has done for us and how wonderful he is.[1]

With all due respect to those of you who have read through this book and found it so joyous and hopeful, I found myself not wanting to read another word. Why? Well, if we need to see what heaven is like, the Bible is clearly sufficient for that, so we must look to see if Piper’s vision of heaven matches the Scriptures. And on at least two occasions it clearly does not. Rev. 5:9-10

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation,

[10] and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

and they shall reign on the earth.”

Let me ask you: do you believe those in heaven realize how they made it there? It is because of Jesus reconciling us as sinners to God who is holy through … what? The Cross! The elders and the whole company were singing about the cross even in heaven! Also in Revelation, the Spirit reveals a Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Why is Jesus called a Lamb? Because Lambs were sacrificed, but Jesus was the once and for all sacrifice and all who partake of this are recipients of Christ’s reconciling and atoning work on the cross!

Let us be very discerning about the things we read — even bestselling Christian books! My dad warned me, “Not everything that’s in print is worth reading.” I shall read through the rest of Piper’s book, I pray that the rest of it is more in tune with the biblical account and will reflect more of the Gospel.

 

[1]Don Piper, 90 Minutes in Heaven (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2004), 35.

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Did Don Piper’s “90 Minutes in Heaven” Reflect the Biblical Heaven?

In Book Review on March 2, 2008 at 3:53 pm

Recently, someone let me borrow a book called 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper. The premise of the book is that Don Piper, a Baptist minister, was in a horrendous car accident and was dead for 90 minutes. During that time, according to Piper, he was in heaven. He spoke of its beauty, of seeing relatives and loved ones, and how the place almost overwhelmed the senses.

What interested me was his chapter on heavenly music. Praise was everywhere, he said, filling his heart with the deepest of joy. But what really caught my attention was his remark on p. 35:

Many of the old hymns and choruses I had sung at various times in my life were part of the music — along with hundreds of songs I had never heard before. Hymns of praise, modern-sounding choruses, and ancient chants filled my ears and brought not only a deep peace but the greatest feeling of joy I’ve ever experienced.

As I stood before the gate, I didn’t think of it, but later realized that I didn’t hear such songs as “The Old Rugged Cross” or “The Nail-Scarred Hand.” None of the hymns that filled the air were about Jesus’ sacrifice or death. I heard no sad songs and instinctively knew that there were no sad songs in heaven. Why would there by? All were praises about Christ’s reign as King of Kings and our joyful worship for all he has done for us and how wonderful he is.[1]

With all due respect to those of you who have read through this book and found it so joyous and hopeful, I found myself not wanting to read another word. Why? Well, if we need to see what heaven is like, the Bible is clearly sufficient for that, so we must look to see if Piper’s vision of heaven matches the Scriptures. And on at least two occasions it clearly does not. Rev. 5:9-10

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation,

[10] and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

and they shall reign on the earth.”

Let me ask you: do you believe those in heaven realize how they made it there? It is because of Jesus reconciling us as sinners to God who is holy through … what? The Cross! The elders and the whole company were singing about the cross even in heaven! Also in Revelation, the Spirit reveals a Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Why is Jesus called a Lamb? Because Lambs were sacrificed, but Jesus was the once and for all sacrifice and all who partake of this are recipients of Christ’s reconciling and atoning work on the cross!

Let us be very discerning about the things we read — even bestselling Christian books! My dad warned me, “Not everything that’s in print is worth reading.” I shall read through the rest of Piper’s book, I pray that the rest of it is more in tune with the biblical account and will reflect more of the Gospel.

 

[1]Don Piper, 90 Minutes in Heaven (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2004), 35.

Book Review: “The Reason for God” by Tim Keller (Part I)

In Book Review, Culture on February 28, 2008 at 2:54 pm

When news came out that Tim Keller was writing another book, excitement shot around the reformed blogosphere.  When news came out that Keller’s book would be published by Penguin Books, we were thrilled that his voice would be heard (read) on a wider landscape than just among Christian evangelicals. When we heard that his book would address the secular humanists’ skepticism of all things theistic, we were thankful that such a balanced and well-spoken voice would represent us in such a wonderful way.

Now, his book is out. Westminster Theological Seminary’s online bookstore noted that Keller’s book is the fastest selling book in their storied history (high praise, since they have the best book deals online, bar none).  This book, along with his corresponding online site , provide a welcome understanding of the role of Christ, the Gospel, and the Christian church in our culture and world.

This book is a smooth read — as if you were sitting down and having a conversation with Keller himself.  Keller starts off by disarming critics and disturbing conservative theists.  When the introduction is titled, “The Enemies Are Both Right,” theists looking for an ally may have been taken aback by his apparent concession of room to the atheists.  But notice this rather insightful paragraph:

We have an impasse between the strengthening forces of doubt and belief, and this won’t be solved simply by calling for more civility and dialogue.  Arguments depend on having commonly held reference points that both side can hold each other to.  When fundamental understandings of reality conflict, it is hard to find anything to which to appeal.  … I want to make a proposal that I have seen bear much fruit in the lives of young New Yorkers over the years.  I recommend that each side look at doubt in a radically new way (xvi).

Keller introduces this radical new way of seeing doubt as a way to educate and explore rather than something to be avoided.  Atheists have doubts about Christianity — but they should not avoid it, but honestly explore those doubts to see if they have any credibility.  Theists should look at the arguments made by the atheists to strengthen their own understanding of the Scriptures.

The core of the book is for each side to examine their beliefs and the “leaps of faith” to which each side holds.  Keller says:

This … book is a distillation of the many conversations I’ve had with doubters over the years.  I’ve tried to respectfully help skeptics look at their own faith-foundations while at the same time laying bare my own to their strongest criticisms.  … Respectful dialogue between entreached traditional conservative and secular liberal people is a great good, and I hope this book will promote it (xix).

This book does just that!  In the next part of this review, I will examine Part One, entitled “The Leap of Doubt.”  In this section, Keller fleshes out what he calls “defeater beliefs” that many secular folks levy toward Christians to apparently show why Christianity is not viable in our contemporary age.

Book Review: “The Reason for God” by Tim Keller (Part I)

In Book Review, Culture on February 28, 2008 at 2:54 pm

When news came out that Tim Keller was writing another book, excitement shot around the reformed blogosphere.  When news came out that Keller’s book would be published by Penguin Books, we were thrilled that his voice would be heard (read) on a wider landscape than just among Christian evangelicals. When we heard that his book would address the secular humanists’ skepticism of all things theistic, we were thankful that such a balanced and well-spoken voice would represent us in such a wonderful way.

Now, his book is out. Westminster Theological Seminary’s online bookstore noted that Keller’s book is the fastest selling book in their storied history (high praise, since they have the best book deals online, bar none).  This book, along with his corresponding online site , provide a welcome understanding of the role of Christ, the Gospel, and the Christian church in our culture and world.

This book is a smooth read — as if you were sitting down and having a conversation with Keller himself.  Keller starts off by disarming critics and disturbing conservative theists.  When the introduction is titled, “The Enemies Are Both Right,” theists looking for an ally may have been taken aback by his apparent concession of room to the atheists.  But notice this rather insightful paragraph:

We have an impasse between the strengthening forces of doubt and belief, and this won’t be solved simply by calling for more civility and dialogue.  Arguments depend on having commonly held reference points that both side can hold each other to.  When fundamental understandings of reality conflict, it is hard to find anything to which to appeal.  … I want to make a proposal that I have seen bear much fruit in the lives of young New Yorkers over the years.  I recommend that each side look at doubt in a radically new way (xvi).

Keller introduces this radical new way of seeing doubt as a way to educate and explore rather than something to be avoided.  Atheists have doubts about Christianity — but they should not avoid it, but honestly explore those doubts to see if they have any credibility.  Theists should look at the arguments made by the atheists to strengthen their own understanding of the Scriptures.

The core of the book is for each side to examine their beliefs and the “leaps of faith” to which each side holds.  Keller says:

This … book is a distillation of the many conversations I’ve had with doubters over the years.  I’ve tried to respectfully help skeptics look at their own faith-foundations while at the same time laying bare my own to their strongest criticisms.  … Respectful dialogue between entreached traditional conservative and secular liberal people is a great good, and I hope this book will promote it (xix).

This book does just that!  In the next part of this review, I will examine Part One, entitled “The Leap of Doubt.”  In this section, Keller fleshes out what he calls “defeater beliefs” that many secular folks levy toward Christians to apparently show why Christianity is not viable in our contemporary age.

“Spirit-Led Preaching” by Greg Heisler (Book Review)

In Book Review, Preaching on November 30, 2007 at 11:06 pm

spiritledpreaching2.pngDr. Greg Heisler (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY) serves as assistant professor of preaching at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. His passion for the nature of preaching is quite clear:

Our students need to see the complementary relationship between the Word and the Spirit and to understand the proper function of sermon mechanics and sermon dynamics for preaching. They need to have as much zeal for the theological realities as they do for the dependence on the Holy Spirit (15).

He states this because the previous generations of homiletics professors and their works only offer a “passing reference to the Spirit” (11). In this volume, Heisler admirably makes the case in how the Holy Spirit must not be an afterthought in sermon preparation and delivery, but he must stand in the forefront in every step of the process of constructing a sermon as well as a holy life.

The preacher will appreciate Heisler’s chapter on “What is Spirit-Led Preaching?” He illustrates two differing models of expository preaching: “text-driven preaching” (18) in which the focus is on presenting the biblical text correctly, with the Spirit’s role seen as implicit; and “spirit-driven preaching” in which the focus is “on the dynamic of the Spirit and the Spirit’s text” with the result being a “Christological witness and Spirit-filled living” (19). He uses a picturesque illustration to drive home this concept:

I imagine the Holy Spirit’s power touching down on the tracks of the biblical text, and suddenly the combination of Word and Spirit together ignite into sermonic propulsion. The preacher’s responsibility is not to push the train in his own strength; nor it is the preacher’s responsibility to build new tracks to new places. The preacher’s responsibility is to keep the train on the tracks (19)!

Preachers would do well to internalize this concept and embrace this powerful picture.

Heisler rightly reinforces the complementary relationship between the Scriptures and the Spirit in Chapter Five. Given the problematic theology of the charismatic movement who puts the Spirit and the Word against one another, Heisler gives a strong argument demonstrating the harmony between the two.

Together Word and Spirit form the powerful catalyst that serves as the theological foundation for Spirit-led preaching. The Word activates the Spirit, and the Spirit authenticates the Word. The Word is the instrument of the Spirit, and the Spirit is the implement of the Word. The Word is the written witness, and the Spirit is the inward witness. In terms of preaching, the Word is the source and substance of our preaching, and the Spirit is the supernatural power of our preaching (62).

He rightly notes how the three testimonies of preaching (Scripture, the Spirit, and the Preacher) come together toward a Christological witness. “The Spirit’s ministry is a continuation of Jesus’ ministry, as the Spirit stands in place of Jesus until Christ’s triumphant return” (57). Heisler is correct when he says that preaching which claims to be Spirit-filled and Spirit-led but fails to preach Christ-centered sermons are not Spirit-led sermons.

The strongest chapter in this volume is Chapter Seven where Heisler addresses “The Preacher and the Spirit.” Heisler makes a stunning statement that the preacher must absorb:

I believe that the passion and confidence the prophet of God experiences in his preaching ministry are directly proportional to the daily obedience and surrender to the call of God on the preacher’s life. . . . It’s as if God has subpoenaed us to stand before him, not in a courtroom in front of a jury but in a pulpit in from of his people. We are there by divine calling, and we are there by divine authority (72).

Heisler sounds a clarion call for ministers to incorporate the Spirit into their personal lives before they attempt to incorporate him into areas of their professional lives such as preparation, presentation, and delivery. Personal obedience to Christ and preaching the Word of Christ must coincide.

The only weakness found in this work is the lack of conciseness in Heisler’s working definitions. For instance, when he presents his definition of expository preaching, he states:

Expository preaching is the Spirit-empowered proclamation of biblical trust derived from the illuminating guidance of the Holy Spirit by means of a verse-by-verse exposition of the Spirit-inspired text, with a view to applying the text by means of the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, first to the preacher’s heart, and then to the hearts of those who hear, culminating in an authentic and powerful witness to the living Word, Jesus Christ, and obedient, Spirit-filled living (21).

While the construct of this definition reminds one of the Greek sentence construct of the Apostle Paul (see Ephesians 1:3-14), this structure does not allow for the reader to absorb the definition easily. Breaking this sentence down into two, three, even four sentences would be helpful. His vision of teaching homiletics commits the same faux pas — to which he readily admits (75).

Even so, this reviewer plans on using this book as a textbook in training expository preachers in his local church setting. The evangelical world in general and preachers specifically should be grateful to Greg Heisler for re-introducing the Spirit to expository preaching. Along with this volume, Arturo G. Azurdia’s book on Spirit-Empowered Preaching serves as an excellent compliment. Praise God for raising up Spirit-led preachers in our present age.

Heisler, Greg. Spirit-Led Preaching: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Sermon Preparation and Delivery. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishing Group, 2007. 156 pp. $17.99.

“Spirit-Led Preaching” by Greg Heisler (Book Review)

In Book Review, Preaching on November 30, 2007 at 11:06 pm

spiritledpreaching2.pngDr. Greg Heisler (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY) serves as assistant professor of preaching at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. His passion for the nature of preaching is quite clear:

Our students need to see the complementary relationship between the Word and the Spirit and to understand the proper function of sermon mechanics and sermon dynamics for preaching. They need to have as much zeal for the theological realities as they do for the dependence on the Holy Spirit (15).

He states this because the previous generations of homiletics professors and their works only offer a “passing reference to the Spirit” (11). In this volume, Heisler admirably makes the case in how the Holy Spirit must not be an afterthought in sermon preparation and delivery, but he must stand in the forefront in every step of the process of constructing a sermon as well as a holy life.

The preacher will appreciate Heisler’s chapter on “What is Spirit-Led Preaching?” He illustrates two differing models of expository preaching: “text-driven preaching” (18) in which the focus is on presenting the biblical text correctly, with the Spirit’s role seen as implicit; and “spirit-driven preaching” in which the focus is “on the dynamic of the Spirit and the Spirit’s text” with the result being a “Christological witness and Spirit-filled living” (19). He uses a picturesque illustration to drive home this concept:

I imagine the Holy Spirit’s power touching down on the tracks of the biblical text, and suddenly the combination of Word and Spirit together ignite into sermonic propulsion. The preacher’s responsibility is not to push the train in his own strength; nor it is the preacher’s responsibility to build new tracks to new places. The preacher’s responsibility is to keep the train on the tracks (19)!

Preachers would do well to internalize this concept and embrace this powerful picture.

Heisler rightly reinforces the complementary relationship between the Scriptures and the Spirit in Chapter Five. Given the problematic theology of the charismatic movement who puts the Spirit and the Word against one another, Heisler gives a strong argument demonstrating the harmony between the two.

Together Word and Spirit form the powerful catalyst that serves as the theological foundation for Spirit-led preaching. The Word activates the Spirit, and the Spirit authenticates the Word. The Word is the instrument of the Spirit, and the Spirit is the implement of the Word. The Word is the written witness, and the Spirit is the inward witness. In terms of preaching, the Word is the source and substance of our preaching, and the Spirit is the supernatural power of our preaching (62).

He rightly notes how the three testimonies of preaching (Scripture, the Spirit, and the Preacher) come together toward a Christological witness. “The Spirit’s ministry is a continuation of Jesus’ ministry, as the Spirit stands in place of Jesus until Christ’s triumphant return” (57). Heisler is correct when he says that preaching which claims to be Spirit-filled and Spirit-led but fails to preach Christ-centered sermons are not Spirit-led sermons.

The strongest chapter in this volume is Chapter Seven where Heisler addresses “The Preacher and the Spirit.” Heisler makes a stunning statement that the preacher must absorb:

I believe that the passion and confidence the prophet of God experiences in his preaching ministry are directly proportional to the daily obedience and surrender to the call of God on the preacher’s life. . . . It’s as if God has subpoenaed us to stand before him, not in a courtroom in front of a jury but in a pulpit in from of his people. We are there by divine calling, and we are there by divine authority (72).

Heisler sounds a clarion call for ministers to incorporate the Spirit into their personal lives before they attempt to incorporate him into areas of their professional lives such as preparation, presentation, and delivery. Personal obedience to Christ and preaching the Word of Christ must coincide.

The only weakness found in this work is the lack of conciseness in Heisler’s working definitions. For instance, when he presents his definition of expository preaching, he states:

Expository preaching is the Spirit-empowered proclamation of biblical trust derived from the illuminating guidance of the Holy Spirit by means of a verse-by-verse exposition of the Spirit-inspired text, with a view to applying the text by means of the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, first to the preacher’s heart, and then to the hearts of those who hear, culminating in an authentic and powerful witness to the living Word, Jesus Christ, and obedient, Spirit-filled living (21).

While the construct of this definition reminds one of the Greek sentence construct of the Apostle Paul (see Ephesians 1:3-14), this structure does not allow for the reader to absorb the definition easily. Breaking this sentence down into two, three, even four sentences would be helpful. His vision of teaching homiletics commits the same faux pas — to which he readily admits (75).

Even so, this reviewer plans on using this book as a textbook in training expository preachers in his local church setting. The evangelical world in general and preachers specifically should be grateful to Greg Heisler for re-introducing the Spirit to expository preaching. Along with this volume, Arturo G. Azurdia’s book on Spirit-Empowered Preaching serves as an excellent compliment. Praise God for raising up Spirit-led preachers in our present age.

Heisler, Greg. Spirit-Led Preaching: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Sermon Preparation and Delivery. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishing Group, 2007. 156 pp. $17.99.

“Interpreting the Pauline Epistles” by Thomas R. Schreiner (A Book Review)

In Book Review on July 28, 2007 at 8:59 am

11978.jpg“Since 13 of the 27 books in the NT are attributed to Paul, a separate book on how to do Pauline exegesis is warranted” (13). So starts Dr. Schreiner in his very helpful work, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles.Schreiner serves as the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisville, Kentucky.

Prior to coming to Southern, he served as assistant professor of New Testament at Bethel Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Schreiner has contributed a number of books and commentaries on New Testament interpretation.

Schreiner’s focus in this volume is stated in the book’s introduction, which is to “focus on the methodology that should be used in interpreting the Pauline letters” (22). He continues, “Methodology focuses upon the science of interpretation, that is, the principles and procedures that are essential for exegesis” (22). He sees that the goal of exegesis is “to gain a worldview based upon and informed by the biblical text” (17). He feels so strongly about this method that he notes, “If one has never trembled when doing exegesis (Isa. 66:2), then one is not listening for the voice of God” (18). Schreiner seeks to make the case for using exegesis as the interpretative tool for understanding Pauline
theology.

Chapter One deals with “Understanding the Nature of Letters.” Schreiner believes that “perhaps the most important issue in interpretation is the issue of genre. If we misunderstand the genre of a text, the rest of our analysis will be askew” (23). This initial step is crucial to accurate interpretation of the Pauline epistles. In this chapter, Schreiner addresses the structure of epistles by discussing its opening, body, and closing. He notes how Paul’s epistles are not intended to be systematic theologies, but rather “are pastoral works in which Paul applied his theology to specific problems in the churches”(42). Interpreters must understand this mindset of Paul in order to more accurately assess his message.

Chapter Two deals with textual criticism. In this short chapter, Schreiner makes a number of suggestions regarding “textual study” and will “highlight a few examples of the practice of textual criticism in Pauline literature” (51). Chapter Three, entitled, “Translating and Analyzing the Letter,” Schreiner strongly advocates the necessity for knowing the original languages. “The goal at this point is to have a good working knowledge of the text. Subsequent detailed exegesis may lead the student to revise the initial translation” (57).

In Chapter Four, Schreiner addresses “Investigating Historical and Introductory Issues” and is divided into two portions: a focus on “historical-cultural issues” and the second portion on “introductory issues that relate specifically to the book under consideration” (61-62). In Chapter Five, entitled, “Diagramming and Conducting a Grammatical Analysis,” Schreiner’s goal is “to present as simple a system [of diagramming] as possible” (79) in order to clearly understand the syntax of the particular
passage under review. He believes that understanding the syntax outside of diagramming is impossible.

In Chapter Six, entitled “Tracing the Argument,” Schreiner is convinced that tracing the argument in Paul’s epistles “is the most important step in the exegetical process” (97). The importance of this step lies in the challenge of reconstruction many of Paul’s complex arguments. In Chapter Seven, Schreiner
turns his attention to “Doing Lexical Studies.” He laments that this step has suffered “great abuse,” therefore this step is an important one.

In Chapter Eight, entitled “Probing the Theological Context,” Schreiner discusses whether it possible to discover a Pauline theology, or do Paul’s letters simplyaddress pastoral issues to distinct situations?
Schreiner believers “there is enough information [in these letters] to provide the reader with a very full-blooded picture of Paul’s theology” (136). Chapter Nine, entitled “Delineating the Significance of Paul’s Letters,” addresses the issue of Paul’s letters and their significance in contemporary times.

Critical Analysis

Schreiner provides an excellent work in the realm of New Testament interpretation, giving us a practical volume to help the student truly understand the Pauline Epistles. He laments that “one of the greatest weaknesses of students is an inability to read the Greek NT” (58) — to which he advises a program of “regular reading” to improve this necessary skill.

One of the many strengths of this work is Schreiner’s strong emphasis on authorial intent. In his definition of exegesis, he notes:

Exegesis is the method by which we ascertain what an author meant when he or she wrote a particular piece of literature. The meaning of Scripture cannot be separated from the intention of the author as that intention is expressed in the words of the text. . . .We aim to discover God’s meaning, but such a meaning cannot be known apart from the intention of the human author (20).

While Schreiner’s view directly opposes many contemporary scholars who advocate a reader-response method of interpretation in our postmodern society (this is where the meaning entirely comes from the response of the reader and none other), his view is infinitely practical and lines up accordingly with the way most people live their lives. When one receives a shopping list of items and is asked to purchase those items at the grocery, the shopper would be foolish to ignore the author’s intention. The same mindset holds for those under contract — whatever the terms the contract holds are based upon the intention of the author of that contract.

Schreiner advises when reading Paul that “we should recognize that we are all inclined to read our own preconceptions into Paul, and thus we should struggle to read Paul on his own terms first and then apply his word to our culture” (152). Schreiner rightly notes, “The more one knows about the culture, history, and literature of NT times, the greater will be the ability to put oneself into the shoes of the original readers, which is always a benefit in interpretation” (62). Exegetes must absorb these lessons in order to rightly divide the Word (2 Timothy 2:15).

Schreiner makes an excellent observation in noting that “the capstone of exegesis is theological synthesis” (135). This theological synthesis is foundational in shaping the worldview of the interpreter. Schreiner believes that “exegesis will not be the passion of students unless they see that it plays a vital role in the formation of one’s worldview. . . . If one’s heart never sings when doing exegesis, then the process has not reached its culmination. And if one has never trembled when doing exegesis (Isa. 66:2), then one is not listening for the voice of God” (18). What an incredible reminder he gives in showing how the exegete must engage in worship as he uncovers the meaning of the biblical text.

Schreiner notes the pastoral intention of the letters as well:

One of the most crucial points to remember in interpreting Paul’s letters is that they were written to address specific situations. They are not systematic treatises that were intended to present a complete Christian theology. They are pastoral works in which Paul applied his theology to specific problems in the churches (42).

The reader will appreciate Schreiner’s references to other works that deal specifically with the subject under discussion. He stays focus to his particular area of emphasis rather than trying to say something about every possible area. He uses a helpful method by directing the reader to other helpful works in case the reader would like to delve in deeper to another angle which Schreiner does not cover.

Schreiner details a great amount of this work to the method of diagramming in order to understand the grammar and syntax of a particular passage. His conviction is clear with this particular statement in the first paragraph of Chapter Five:

It is true that one can understand the Greek text without diagramming, but no one can comprehend the Greek text unless the grammar and syntax of the text are understood. And no one can claim to comprehend the syntax of the passage unless he or she is able to diagram the
passage” (77).

The concern with Schreiner’s statement lies in the absolute nature with which he endorses this method, as if to say that no other method ever devised may provide the interpreter with an understanding of the text and its grammar and syntax. He may be correct — but to the novice, Schreiner sounds like a salesman:“Other methods have tried — only this one succeeds.” Yet, having sat under Dr. Schreiner’s teaching and preaching at Southern Seminary, this reviewer knows first hand of the humble nature with which he not only ministers but also lives his Christian walk. While he may not mean to convey this mindset, too many readers may be put off by the absolute nature of his comments.

Conclusion

Schreiner’s work stands as a great help for the pastor and seminary student alike. His work remains accessible to the average pastor and his busy schedule because he does not overload the pastor and student with extraneous material. Schreiner maintained focus in communicating basic helps which will
benefit the pastor throughout his entire ministry. Having read this entire work thoroughly, I would highly recommend this work to every pastor.

Schreiner, Thomas
R. Interpreting the Pauline Epistles:
Guides to New Testament Exegesis
. Grand Rapids, MI:
Baker Books, 1990. 167 pp. $18.99.

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“Interpreting the Pauline Epistles” by Thomas R. Schreiner (A Book Review)

In Book Review on July 28, 2007 at 8:59 am

11978.jpg“Since 13 of the 27 books in the NT are attributed to Paul, a separate book on how to do Pauline exegesis is warranted” (13). So starts Dr. Schreiner in his very helpful work, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles.Schreiner serves as the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisville, Kentucky.

Prior to coming to Southern, he served as assistant professor of New Testament at Bethel Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Schreiner has contributed a number of books and commentaries on New Testament interpretation.

Schreiner’s focus in this volume is stated in the book’s introduction, which is to “focus on the methodology that should be used in interpreting the Pauline letters” (22). He continues, “Methodology focuses upon the science of interpretation, that is, the principles and procedures that are essential for exegesis” (22). He sees that the goal of exegesis is “to gain a worldview based upon and informed by the biblical text” (17). He feels so strongly about this method that he notes, “If one has never trembled when doing exegesis (Isa. 66:2), then one is not listening for the voice of God” (18). Schreiner seeks to make the case for using exegesis as the interpretative tool for understanding Pauline
theology.

Chapter One deals with “Understanding the Nature of Letters.” Schreiner believes that “perhaps the most important issue in interpretation is the issue of genre. If we misunderstand the genre of a text, the rest of our analysis will be askew” (23). This initial step is crucial to accurate interpretation of the Pauline epistles. In this chapter, Schreiner addresses the structure of epistles by discussing its opening, body, and closing. He notes how Paul’s epistles are not intended to be systematic theologies, but rather “are pastoral works in which Paul applied his theology to specific problems in the churches”(42). Interpreters must understand this mindset of Paul in order to more accurately assess his message.

Chapter Two deals with textual criticism. In this short chapter, Schreiner makes a number of suggestions regarding “textual study” and will “highlight a few examples of the practice of textual criticism in Pauline literature” (51). Chapter Three, entitled, “Translating and Analyzing the Letter,” Schreiner strongly advocates the necessity for knowing the original languages. “The goal at this point is to have a good working knowledge of the text. Subsequent detailed exegesis may lead the student to revise the initial translation” (57).

In Chapter Four, Schreiner addresses “Investigating Historical and Introductory Issues” and is divided into two portions: a focus on “historical-cultural issues” and the second portion on “introductory issues that relate specifically to the book under consideration” (61-62). In Chapter Five, entitled, “Diagramming and Conducting a Grammatical Analysis,” Schreiner’s goal is “to present as simple a system [of diagramming] as possible” (79) in order to clearly understand the syntax of the particular
passage under review. He believes that understanding the syntax outside of diagramming is impossible.

In Chapter Six, entitled “Tracing the Argument,” Schreiner is convinced that tracing the argument in Paul’s epistles “is the most important step in the exegetical process” (97). The importance of this step lies in the challenge of reconstruction many of Paul’s complex arguments. In Chapter Seven, Schreiner
turns his attention to “Doing Lexical Studies.” He laments that this step has suffered “great abuse,” therefore this step is an important one.

In Chapter Eight, entitled “Probing the Theological Context,” Schreiner discusses whether it possible to discover a Pauline theology, or do Paul’s letters simplyaddress pastoral issues to distinct situations?
Schreiner believers “there is enough information [in these letters] to provide the reader with a very full-blooded picture of Paul’s theology” (136). Chapter Nine, entitled “Delineating the Significance of Paul’s Letters,” addresses the issue of Paul’s letters and their significance in contemporary times.

Critical Analysis

Schreiner provides an excellent work in the realm of New Testament interpretation, giving us a practical volume to help the student truly understand the Pauline Epistles. He laments that “one of the greatest weaknesses of students is an inability to read the Greek NT” (58) — to which he advises a program of “regular reading” to improve this necessary skill.

One of the many strengths of this work is Schreiner’s strong emphasis on authorial intent. In his definition of exegesis, he notes:

Exegesis is the method by which we ascertain what an author meant when he or she wrote a particular piece of literature. The meaning of Scripture cannot be separated from the intention of the author as that intention is expressed in the words of the text. . . .We aim to discover God’s meaning, but such a meaning cannot be known apart from the intention of the human author (20).

While Schreiner’s view directly opposes many contemporary scholars who advocate a reader-response method of interpretation in our postmodern society (this is where the meaning entirely comes from the response of the reader and none other), his view is infinitely practical and lines up accordingly with the way most people live their lives. When one receives a shopping list of items and is asked to purchase those items at the grocery, the shopper would be foolish to ignore the author’s intention. The same mindset holds for those under contract — whatever the terms the contract holds are based upon the intention of the author of that contract.

Schreiner advises when reading Paul that “we should recognize that we are all inclined to read our own preconceptions into Paul, and thus we should struggle to read Paul on his own terms first and then apply his word to our culture” (152). Schreiner rightly notes, “The more one knows about the culture, history, and literature of NT times, the greater will be the ability to put oneself into the shoes of the original readers, which is always a benefit in interpretation” (62). Exegetes must absorb these lessons in order to rightly divide the Word (2 Timothy 2:15).

Schreiner makes an excellent observation in noting that “the capstone of exegesis is theological synthesis” (135). This theological synthesis is foundational in shaping the worldview of the interpreter. Schreiner believes that “exegesis will not be the passion of students unless they see that it plays a vital role in the formation of one’s worldview. . . . If one’s heart never sings when doing exegesis, then the process has not reached its culmination. And if one has never trembled when doing exegesis (Isa. 66:2), then one is not listening for the voice of God” (18). What an incredible reminder he gives in showing how the exegete must engage in worship as he uncovers the meaning of the biblical text.

Schreiner notes the pastoral intention of the letters as well:

One of the most crucial points to remember in interpreting Paul’s letters is that they were written to address specific situations. They are not systematic treatises that were intended to present a complete Christian theology. They are pastoral works in which Paul applied his theology to specific problems in the churches (42).

The reader will appreciate Schreiner’s references to other works that deal specifically with the subject under discussion. He stays focus to his particular area of emphasis rather than trying to say something about every possible area. He uses a helpful method by directing the reader to other helpful works in case the reader would like to delve in deeper to another angle which Schreiner does not cover.

Schreiner details a great amount of this work to the method of diagramming in order to understand the grammar and syntax of a particular passage. His conviction is clear with this particular statement in the first paragraph of Chapter Five:

It is true that one can understand the Greek text without diagramming, but no one can comprehend the Greek text unless the grammar and syntax of the text are understood. And no one can claim to comprehend the syntax of the passage unless he or she is able to diagram the
passage” (77).

The concern with Schreiner’s statement lies in the absolute nature with which he endorses this method, as if to say that no other method ever devised may provide the interpreter with an understanding of the text and its grammar and syntax. He may be correct — but to the novice, Schreiner sounds like a salesman:“Other methods have tried — only this one succeeds.” Yet, having sat under Dr. Schreiner’s teaching and preaching at Southern Seminary, this reviewer knows first hand of the humble nature with which he not only ministers but also lives his Christian walk. While he may not mean to convey this mindset, too many readers may be put off by the absolute nature of his comments.

Conclusion

Schreiner’s work stands as a great help for the pastor and seminary student alike. His work remains accessible to the average pastor and his busy schedule because he does not overload the pastor and student with extraneous material. Schreiner maintained focus in communicating basic helps which will
benefit the pastor throughout his entire ministry. Having read this entire work thoroughly, I would highly recommend this work to every pastor.

Schreiner, Thomas
R. Interpreting the Pauline Epistles:
Guides to New Testament Exegesis
. Grand Rapids, MI:
Baker Books, 1990. 167 pp. $18.99.

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“The Hermeneutical Spiral” by Grant Osborne (Book Review)

In Book Review on July 21, 2007 at 9:58 pm

9780830828265.jpgDr. Grant Osbourne provides a comprehensive volume on biblical interpretation in the second edition of The Hermeneutical Spiral. Osborne (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen) serves professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He also serves as series editor for the IVP New Testament Commentary Series.

This book serves as a response to scholars of the New Hermeneutic who advocate biblical interpretation as a “hermeneutical circle” (22) in which the reader can never understand the true meaning nor intent of the author. Osbourne states, “The major premise of this book is that biblical interpretation entails a ‘spiral’ from text to context, from its original meaning to its contextualization or significance in the church today” (22). Osbourne adopts a “meaning-significance format” (23) in which the author intends one meaning yet the implications and significance are numerous for the individual readers.

Summary

Osbourne deals with General Hermeneutics in Part I (Chapters 1-5). He first addresses the area of context, calling this “the first stage in serious Bible study … [grasping] the whole before attempting to dissect the parts” (37). Within context, he deals with two particular areas: the historical context and the logical context. In the next chapter, Osbourne speaks on the issue of grammar, which “denotes the basic laws of language behind the relationship between the terms and the surface structure” (57).

Next, Osbourne addresses semantics which looks at “the meaning of individual words as each functions in the sentence” (57). He notes that only since the 1950s has this realm of study come to the forefront of academics and that this area involves “not only syntax but also the historical-cultural background behind the statements” (83). In the following chapter, Osbourne discusses the role of syntax in interpretation. He refers to syntax as “all the interrelationships within the sentence as a means of determining the meaning of the unit as a whole [and] includes compositional patterns, grammar and semantics, and so forms a valid conclusion to the previous three chapters” (113). In Chapter Five, Osborne deals with historical and cultural backgrounds. Osborne notes that “background knowledge will turn a sermon from a two-dimensional study to a three-dimensional cinematic event” (158).

Chapter Ten deals with biblical prophecy, an area in which there is a “widespread misunderstanding” (258) about its nature and purpose. Osborne clearly states that is “not just to correct these erroneous views but to enhance the value and power of biblical prophecy for today” (258). Chapter Eleven helps the exegete understand the apocalyptic genre, who may find himself “caught between the literal and the symbolic, not knowing quite how to approach these works” (275). In Chapter Twelve, Osborne addresses the genre of parables. He notes that “few portions of Scripture [are] as exciting and relevant for preaching, [yet] they have been among the most written about yet hermeneutically abused portions of Scripture” (291).

In Chapter Fifteen, Osborne addresses what he believes “constitutes the first step away from the exegesis of individual passages and toward the delineation of their significance for the church today” (347) — that is, biblical theology. Chapter Sixteen deals with systematic theology, which Osborne defines as “the proper goal of biblical study and teaching. Every hermeneutical aspect … must be put into practice in constructing such a theology for our day” (374).

Critical Analysis

In the Preface to the Second Edition, he states:

The purpose of this volume is to provide a comprehensive overview of the hermeneutical principles for reading any book, but in particular for studying and understanding the Bible, God’s Word. … The one thing of which I am certain is that Christians want to be fed, and my goal is to enable pastors and teachers in the churches to know how to discover these precious biblical truths and then turn them into sermons and Bible studies for the flock God has given them (15).

This overview is indeed comprehensive. In this volume, Grant Osborne provides a picturesque method of a hermeneutical spiral that seeks to take the meaning of the biblical text and contextualize the text for the contemporary church. As stated earlier in this review, Osborne uses this picture in response to advocates of the New Hermeneutic and their picture of the Hermeneutical Circle. He notes:

I am not going round and round in a closed circle that can never detect the true meaning but am spiraling nearer and nearer to the text’s intended meaning as I refine my hypothesis and allow the text to continue to challenge and correct those alternative interpretations, then to guide my delineation of its significance for my situation today (22).

While Osborne succeeds in this endeavor, anyone who does not possess a scholarly intelligence able to process this vast amount of information will find this work intimidating and cumbersome due to the intricate detail he uses to make his case. One understands however why this work remains a mainstay in theological academic circles. Osborne takes the exegete from the very beginning of the process in dissecting a passage’s meaning and context to the very end of the process in helping the preacher deliver his sermon based on the research.

The main strength of this work is the balance with which Osborne makes his case for his hermeneutical spiral method. He possesses a dogged determination to find the intended meaning of the author while also using his exegetical tools to help find the significance for the author’s message for today. He presents this in his introduction beautifully. As he advocates deductive study, he notes that this method

… take[s] us away from the contemporary meaning of the word symbols in the text, which, because of our preunderstanding and personal experiences, we cannot help but read back into the text. Our effort then is to get back to the meaning the ancient author intended to convey (32).

In the next paragraph, he rightly notes, “the contextual or theological research completes the task of interpretation” (32). With this mindset, he holds that this method will lead to a development toward biblical, then systematic, then homiletical theology that will bring forth the text’s significance.

In the section on General Hermeneutics, he gives some helpful and thorough information dealing with each initial step of exegesis. As he begins with context, he rightly notes that the exegete must understand the big picture before he examines the parts of the whole. “Without a situation to give the command content, it becomes meaningless. In Scripture the context provides the situation behind the text” (37).

He takes his understanding of context too far in his examination of the debate on inclusive language. He defines this debate in these terms:

The issue is whether all masculine-oriented language in Scripture should be translated literally or in accordance with the larger intentions. . . . Inclusive language translation replaces male pronouns or terms that refer to more than men in the context with inclusive substitutes like one, you, they, people and such unless the context is describing the ancient cultural setting (153).

While Osborne admirably brings out both sides of the issue, his conclusions are troublesome. While he is correct in saying “inclusive language is better because it makes the meaning clear when a passage is intended inclusively” (157), he misses an important dimension when he said, “In conclusion, neither formal nor functional translations are wrong. In fact, they should be used together in studying the Word, the one for the form and words used in the original, the other for the intended meaning of that language” (157). Osborne earlier contends, “It is not form but meaning that matters” (156). Yet, at the beginning of the chapter on syntax (where Osborne’s excurses of the inclusive language debate is contained), he notes, “Individual grammatical decisions likewise are based on the structural development of the whole statement. . . . Word have meaning only as part of the larger context” (113). Osborne seems to say in one area that form does not matter, but earlier he believes that the structure or form is crucial in understanding the whole statement. Since God inspired all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then God would also inspire the structure or form be inspired as well as the meaning.

In his section on Applied Hermeneutics (chapters 15-17), he expertly defines biblical theology as, “That branch of theological inquiry concerned with tracing themes through the diverse sections of the Bible … and then with seeking the unifying themes that draw the bible together” (349). Osborne comes to this particular area with a great deal of honesty in how we approach the Scriptures. “The answer is a proper ‘hermeneutical circle’ or spiral within which the text is reconstructed on the basis of our theological system, yet challenges our preunderstanding and leads to a reformation of our tradition-derived categories” (352). Seldom will the reader find an author of hermeneutics to encourage him to approach the Scriptures with his theological system in full view. Yet Osborne understands that all of the people of God are reared and trained within certain Christian communities with distinct beliefs and traditions. Rather than ignore those traditions, he advocates bringing those beliefs to the text, yet balances this mindset with a willingness for the reader to be challenged. Only this way may the believer and the church of Jesus Christ find reformation.

Sadly, the average busy pastor would find this work intimidating and inaccessible. While this book gives thorough detail in every aspect of hermeneutics, this book may serve well as a reference book but will overwhelm pastors with little formal theological education. Osborne seems to sense this objection. In his chapter on grammar, he predicts for the reader, “There will probably not be a more boring ‘read’ than this chapter” (58). Elsewhere, Osborne says, “The pastor does not have the unlimited time necessary for such detailed research” (140).

Osborne rightly notes that his method will be helpful as the exegete “can utilize the secondary tools with greater expertise (commentaries, background books, lexicons, and so forth), noting when the commentator has done his homework or has made a shallow decision” (140). The concern remains that this method’s detail is so extensive that much of the value of this work will be lost in the minutia.

Conclusion

Having read all the assigned sections, I would recommend Osbourne’s work as a key reference work for expository preachers and hermeneutics professors alike. Although this work does not serve as a book in which the average reader may sit and read straight through, The Hermeneutical Spiral could serve as a very valuable resource for pastors, students, and scholars who wish to dig deeper into this field of study.

(Osbourne, Grant R. The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006. 624 pp. $25.00)

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“The Hermeneutical Spiral” by Grant Osborne (Book Review)

In Book Review on July 21, 2007 at 9:58 pm

9780830828265.jpgDr. Grant Osbourne provides a comprehensive volume on biblical interpretation in the second edition of The Hermeneutical Spiral. Osborne (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen) serves professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He also serves as series editor for the IVP New Testament Commentary Series.

This book serves as a response to scholars of the New Hermeneutic who advocate biblical interpretation as a “hermeneutical circle” (22) in which the reader can never understand the true meaning nor intent of the author. Osbourne states, “The major premise of this book is that biblical interpretation entails a ‘spiral’ from text to context, from its original meaning to its contextualization or significance in the church today” (22). Osbourne adopts a “meaning-significance format” (23) in which the author intends one meaning yet the implications and significance are numerous for the individual readers.

Summary

Osbourne deals with General Hermeneutics in Part I (Chapters 1-5). He first addresses the area of context, calling this “the first stage in serious Bible study … [grasping] the whole before attempting to dissect the parts” (37). Within context, he deals with two particular areas: the historical context and the logical context. In the next chapter, Osbourne speaks on the issue of grammar, which “denotes the basic laws of language behind the relationship between the terms and the surface structure” (57).

Next, Osbourne addresses semantics which looks at “the meaning of individual words as each functions in the sentence” (57). He notes that only since the 1950s has this realm of study come to the forefront of academics and that this area involves “not only syntax but also the historical-cultural background behind the statements” (83). In the following chapter, Osbourne discusses the role of syntax in interpretation. He refers to syntax as “all the interrelationships within the sentence as a means of determining the meaning of the unit as a whole [and] includes compositional patterns, grammar and semantics, and so forms a valid conclusion to the previous three chapters” (113). In Chapter Five, Osborne deals with historical and cultural backgrounds. Osborne notes that “background knowledge will turn a sermon from a two-dimensional study to a three-dimensional cinematic event” (158).

Chapter Ten deals with biblical prophecy, an area in which there is a “widespread misunderstanding” (258) about its nature and purpose. Osborne clearly states that is “not just to correct these erroneous views but to enhance the value and power of biblical prophecy for today” (258). Chapter Eleven helps the exegete understand the apocalyptic genre, who may find himself “caught between the literal and the symbolic, not knowing quite how to approach these works” (275). In Chapter Twelve, Osborne addresses the genre of parables. He notes that “few portions of Scripture [are] as exciting and relevant for preaching, [yet] they have been among the most written about yet hermeneutically abused portions of Scripture” (291).

In Chapter Fifteen, Osborne addresses what he believes “constitutes the first step away from the exegesis of individual passages and toward the delineation of their significance for the church today” (347) — that is, biblical theology. Chapter Sixteen deals with systematic theology, which Osborne defines as “the proper goal of biblical study and teaching. Every hermeneutical aspect … must be put into practice in constructing such a theology for our day” (374).

Critical Analysis

In the Preface to the Second Edition, he states:

The purpose of this volume is to provide a comprehensive overview of the hermeneutical principles for reading any book, but in particular for studying and understanding the Bible, God’s Word. … The one thing of which I am certain is that Christians want to be fed, and my goal is to enable pastors and teachers in the churches to know how to discover these precious biblical truths and then turn them into sermons and Bible studies for the flock God has given them (15).

This overview is indeed comprehensive. In this volume, Grant Osborne provides a picturesque method of a hermeneutical spiral that seeks to take the meaning of the biblical text and contextualize the text for the contemporary church. As stated earlier in this review, Osborne uses this picture in response to advocates of the New Hermeneutic and their picture of the Hermeneutical Circle. He notes:

I am not going round and round in a closed circle that can never detect the true meaning but am spiraling nearer and nearer to the text’s intended meaning as I refine my hypothesis and allow the text to continue to challenge and correct those alternative interpretations, then to guide my delineation of its significance for my situation today (22).

While Osborne succeeds in this endeavor, anyone who does not possess a scholarly intelligence able to process this vast amount of information will find this work intimidating and cumbersome due to the intricate detail he uses to make his case. One understands however why this work remains a mainstay in theological academic circles. Osborne takes the exegete from the very beginning of the process in dissecting a passage’s meaning and context to the very end of the process in helping the preacher deliver his sermon based on the research.

The main strength of this work is the balance with which Osborne makes his case for his hermeneutical spiral method. He possesses a dogged determination to find the intended meaning of the author while also using his exegetical tools to help find the significance for the author’s message for today. He presents this in his introduction beautifully. As he advocates deductive study, he notes that this method

… take[s] us away from the contemporary meaning of the word symbols in the text, which, because of our preunderstanding and personal experiences, we cannot help but read back into the text. Our effort then is to get back to the meaning the ancient author intended to convey (32).

In the next paragraph, he rightly notes, “the contextual or theological research completes the task of interpretation” (32). With this mindset, he holds that this method will lead to a development toward biblical, then systematic, then homiletical theology that will bring forth the text’s significance.

In the section on General Hermeneutics, he gives some helpful and thorough information dealing with each initial step of exegesis. As he begins with context, he rightly notes that the exegete must understand the big picture before he examines the parts of the whole. “Without a situation to give the command content, it becomes meaningless. In Scripture the context provides the situation behind the text” (37).

He takes his understanding of context too far in his examination of the debate on inclusive language. He defines this debate in these terms:

The issue is whether all masculine-oriented language in Scripture should be translated literally or in accordance with the larger intentions. . . . Inclusive language translation replaces male pronouns or terms that refer to more than men in the context with inclusive substitutes like one, you, they, people and such unless the context is describing the ancient cultural setting (153).

While Osborne admirably brings out both sides of the issue, his conclusions are troublesome. While he is correct in saying “inclusive language is better because it makes the meaning clear when a passage is intended inclusively” (157), he misses an important dimension when he said, “In conclusion, neither formal nor functional translations are wrong. In fact, they should be used together in studying the Word, the one for the form and words used in the original, the other for the intended meaning of that language” (157). Osborne earlier contends, “It is not form but meaning that matters” (156). Yet, at the beginning of the chapter on syntax (where Osborne’s excurses of the inclusive language debate is contained), he notes, “Individual grammatical decisions likewise are based on the structural development of the whole statement. . . . Word have meaning only as part of the larger context” (113). Osborne seems to say in one area that form does not matter, but earlier he believes that the structure or form is crucial in understanding the whole statement. Since God inspired all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then God would also inspire the structure or form be inspired as well as the meaning.

In his section on Applied Hermeneutics (chapters 15-17), he expertly defines biblical theology as, “That branch of theological inquiry concerned with tracing themes through the diverse sections of the Bible … and then with seeking the unifying themes that draw the bible together” (349). Osborne comes to this particular area with a great deal of honesty in how we approach the Scriptures. “The answer is a proper ‘hermeneutical circle’ or spiral within which the text is reconstructed on the basis of our theological system, yet challenges our preunderstanding and leads to a reformation of our tradition-derived categories” (352). Seldom will the reader find an author of hermeneutics to encourage him to approach the Scriptures with his theological system in full view. Yet Osborne understands that all of the people of God are reared and trained within certain Christian communities with distinct beliefs and traditions. Rather than ignore those traditions, he advocates bringing those beliefs to the text, yet balances this mindset with a willingness for the reader to be challenged. Only this way may the believer and the church of Jesus Christ find reformation.

Sadly, the average busy pastor would find this work intimidating and inaccessible. While this book gives thorough detail in every aspect of hermeneutics, this book may serve well as a reference book but will overwhelm pastors with little formal theological education. Osborne seems to sense this objection. In his chapter on grammar, he predicts for the reader, “There will probably not be a more boring ‘read’ than this chapter” (58). Elsewhere, Osborne says, “The pastor does not have the unlimited time necessary for such detailed research” (140).

Osborne rightly notes that his method will be helpful as the exegete “can utilize the secondary tools with greater expertise (commentaries, background books, lexicons, and so forth), noting when the commentator has done his homework or has made a shallow decision” (140). The concern remains that this method’s detail is so extensive that much of the value of this work will be lost in the minutia.

Conclusion

Having read all the assigned sections, I would recommend Osbourne’s work as a key reference work for expository preachers and hermeneutics professors alike. Although this work does not serve as a book in which the average reader may sit and read straight through, The Hermeneutical Spiral could serve as a very valuable resource for pastors, students, and scholars who wish to dig deeper into this field of study.

(Osbourne, Grant R. The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006. 624 pp. $25.00)

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