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Entries in Commentaries (3)

Thursday
Jun022016

Commentaries don't have to be dry

Some commentaries are as dry as toast. I have looked at a lot of commentaries over the last six months, and some, while technically good, are a chore to get through (like anything in the Word Commentaries series). But good commentaries don't have to be boring. What I have found is that even commentaries that are more technical, if well-written, have little nuggets that summarize things beautifully. For example, D.A. Carson's commentary on John in the Pillar series is more technical that something in the Reformed Expository Commentary series, but it's worth pushing through the technical parts to get to the really good stuff. Carson has an excellent way of distilling truth.

The same goes for the Commentary on the Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, which Carson co-edits with Greg Beale. I have also read a fair bit of Beale lately, and he, too, is an excellent writer. They have assembled some good writers for this commentary. Craig Blomberg (another writer I am thankful to have read) writes the commentary on the Old Testament use in Matthew. I love the way he concluded his comments on the way Matthew uses Psalm 22 in Matthew 27:45-66:

Throughout church history, Jesus' cry of dereliction has been identified as the moment of divine abandonment. Jesus, who died to atone vicariously for the sins of humanity, recognized at this point in his sufering that he no longer was experiencing the communion with his heavenly Father that had characterized his life . . . Jesus, as the sin-bearing sacrifice, must endure the temporary abandonment of the Father. Separation from God is horrible enough for any creature; "when it concerns one who is uniquely the Son of God . . . , it is impossible to assess what this may have meant to Jesus. This is one of the most impenetrable mysteries of the entire Gospel narrative" (Hagner 1995: 844-45). At the same time, Jesus still cries out to the one he no longer senses. In our worst moments of feeling abandoned by God we can do no less.

Crying out to a God we cannot sense. We have all had those moments when we may not feel God, but we have to rely on what we know to be true.

Commentaries are great for finding these little nuggets.

Wednesday
Feb112015

Yet another post about books for women

Can you stand another post about women and reading? It's been on my mind, not just because of Melissa's post from Monday, but from other reading I have done. 

If one is a reader, she ought to read good books. Good books edify, challenge, and help us to think. We must not think that being well-read makes us "better" than a woman who does not read much. Sometimes, it's good to get our noses out of the books and get busy serving, too.

I think it's good that we read a variety of books, too. There is nothing wrong with reading a good fiction book, or a biography of someone who wasn't a Christian, or a book about a health or science issue. Reading is a joy; we ought to read things that make us feel joyful. God has graciously gifted people with the ability to write with eloquence; yes, even non-Christians. I think a little fiction never hurt anyone. 

What makes a book "good?"

A question has rolled around in my mind, though, when I have read articles about the dearth of wise reading choices among Christian women: what makes a book "good?"  How do we know we're reading a bad book? Is it just a matter of taste? I think in some respects our pre-suppositions will be a huge determiner in that regard. Someone who embraces Reformed theology may have a different views of what is a good book as opposed to someone who is not.

Like all of our decisions, Scripture must inform our thoughts. I think when it comes to directing women (and men) to wise reading decisions (as well as what they watch on television, at the movie theatre, or the music they listen to) the beginning of wisdom in that area is a knowledge of Scripture. While we won't find specific directives of "read this, but not that," we will find guidelines about what is good to fill our minds with.

I think we women need to look for books that will help us understand the bible better. Yes, that means "how to" study books, and "why we study" books, but it may mean books on how to interpret correctly. I think that in addition to reading reviews to learn about books, we should also be reading commentaries, because that will help us understand Scripture better. Reading a commentary is like watching someone else who has expertise unfold the Scripture for us.

Flashback to 2013

Here is an excerpt from a post I wrote two years ago about why I think women ought to read commentaries:

 

While there are books galore out there, covering a myriad of topics for women, written by women, I highly recommend reading a commentary...

What is the value of this?  It focuses us back to the bible.  While a book on parenting, or marriage, or how to deal with anxiety are good topics to explore, something that really gets me into the text is essential. Commentaries get me deeply into the word, and as I meditate on it, my mind is filled with truth, and that equips me to first deal with whatever issue I may be working on, and second, enables me to evaluate the content of other books I am reading.

Women read a lot of books.  What are we reading?  Are we reading methods for a better life or an easier time, or are we reading books that take us back to Scripture? Are we reading critically?  And by that I don't mean with a critical spirit, but with a discerning eye.  

In addition to the Reformed Expository series, there are other similar commentaries.  John MacArthur's commentaries on the New Testament are more like sermons.  Dale Ralph Davis has a series of commentaries on the Old Testament.  Look for books by Martyn-Lloyd Jones that deal with bible passages. His series on Romans  is 15 volumes, and his series on Ephesians is 8 volumes. Those are obviously for the very ambitious reader.  I've read the first volume from his series on Romans, and it's rich teaching. I'm currently beginning his book Life in Christ, which is a study in I John. If you want a really deep study of the Sermon on the Mount, get into Lloyd-Jones's book Studies on the Sermon on the Mount; it's excellent. These are not technical books; they are taken from sermons he preached.

Getting into the word is an obvious must for the Christian, but with all that good reading out there, we can often read very quickly, rather than really dwelling on things.  A commentary will help us slow down a little, and get us really thinking about what we're reading.

Where You Can Find Suggestions 

In addition to the commentaries mentioned here, I would also recommend the series The Bible Speaks Today. The volumes are meaty witout being overly technical. John Stott is editor of the New Testament series, and I have read his book on Galatians, and am in the midst of using his commentary on Ephesians for my Sunday school class.

Ligonier has a series of posts recommending commentaries for all of the books of the bible. Many of them are much more academic type commentaries, but if you read the whole post and check out the "Runners Up" section, you will find more popular level ones. Tim Challies also has a list of suggested commentaries, and he includes a more popular level book in each post.

Spiritual insight comes from the Spirit, and he speaks loud and clear in God's Word. That is always the first book we should consider when we evaluate our reading habits.

Monday
Dec302013

Planning to get soaked

Here were are on the second to last day of 2013. Time to open the floodgates for yearly Bible reading plans. You don't need me to point to any of them for you; Twitter feeds are flooded with them. 

I've read through the Bible in a year a few times, each time, using the M'Cheyne plan, and one year, following along with one of D.A. Carson's volumes, For the Love of God. It's been a few years since I did that.

I do see the benefit of that, but I also like focusing deeply on just a few books. That is my goal for this coming year. I don't know how many I'll delve into, but I can say that I'm beginning with Proverbs and Romans. It is actually my intention to be studying Proverbs all year. I need it.

Along with reading Proverbs, I have a few resources to accompany my reading, among them Dan Phillips' book God's Wisdom in Proverbs, John Kitchen's verse by verse commentary, and a volume by Ray Ortlund, Jr., which came highly recommended to me.

Along with my reading of Romans, I plan on copying it out by hand in a journal, and reading a commentary by Leon Morris as well. Running concurrently with my "soaking" theme for the year is a determination not to buy any books, so I'm determined to be content with what I have. If I want more on Romans, I can certainly partake of Calvin's commentaries online.

For me, focusing more on one or two books at a time helps me remember it better. Just sitting down and attempting to memorize a book has never been entirely successful for me. I am confident this will foster memorization.

Whatever approach you take this year, make it a regular habit to be in the word. If you get started in January and find you lose a bit of steam in March, don't give up; just pick it up again with new determination. There is nothing magical about beginning a bible reading plan in January. Whatever you do, soak it in.