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JRR Tolkien: The Making of a Legend
JRR Tolkien: The Making of a Legend
by Colin Duriez
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.08

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read, 7 Jan 2013
Of Tolkien Duriez says, "Myth and story was embodied in language" (p. 143) and myth and story restore "a true meaning of ordinary and humble things that make up human life" (p. 176). That sums up his life and writing in my estimation. I've read Humphrey Carpenter's biography which is the official biography of Tolkien and I've also read the Tolkien Letters. Duriez's J. R. R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend is as much a must read for Tolkienphiles.

I not only enjoyed refreshing my history of Tolkien's life but I enjoyed the writing and storyline Duriez presents. He covers his life from cradle to the grave. In the biography itself I gathered some wonderful Tolkien tidbits and memorable sayings.

It's also interesting how this biography and recent discoveries have intersected. Duriez reports,
One day Tolkien and Lewis would even plan to collaborate on a book on language, a project that never materialized. (p. 145)
Lo and behold this work has this month been uncovered. The Telegraph reports ("JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis joint work discovered")
The beginning of a joint book by CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien has been discovered in a manuscript book in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

An American academic called Steven Beebe, of Texas State University, San Marcos, had seen the material some years ago, but has only recently realised what it is. It is written in Lewis's hand in the same notebook that contains early drafts for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Magician's Nephew.

Lewis and Tolkien had planned their joint book, to be called Language and Human Nature, in 1944, with publication envisaged for 1950.

You should read this book but especially so if you love Tolkien--even if you're read Carpenter's or other biographies. You won't be disappointed with Duriez's J. R. R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend. My only tiff would be Duriez teasing about the amount of information that could've been included surrounding the publication of The Lord of the Rings. Says Duriez, "Even his dealings with his publisher and another potential publisher could fill a small book" (p. 192). But then we get few details about the process as a whole.

Tolkien's work on Middle-Earth is timeless because he captures the essence of our life within his faerie stories and myth. He has an uncanny ability to penetrate into the depths of the human condition and uncover truth. For instance, he says after WWII
We are attempting to conquer Sauron with the Ring. And we shall (it seems) succeed. But the penalty is, you will know, to breed new Saurons, and slowly turn Men and Elves into Orcs" (p. 191 as quoted in Letters to his son Christopher).
Tolkien was right then and he's even more right today. You should read him and understand his life in connection with the larger corpus of his work. Duriez will help you do this.


Romans: The Divine Marriage: A Biblical Theological Commentary
Romans: The Divine Marriage: A Biblical Theological Commentary
by Tom Holland
Edition: Paperback
Price: £28.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Commentary on Romans I've Read, 13 Oct 2012
Reading Romans like a Jew

I reviewed Contours of Pauline Theology by Tom Holland and it changed the way I read the New Testament. I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of his second book about Romans.

The same themes developed in Contours of Pauline Theology are unpacked in Romans: The Divine Marriage. He argues against those who have said the Christian message was Hellenized and argues instead that Paul's message was distinctively Jewish (pp. 2-3). He demonstrates this Jewishness by examining the theme of the New Exodus and the corporate nature of much of the New Testament (pp. 18-22).

When I was struggling with my salvation and the weight of my sin was bearing down on me Romans was balm to my soul. It's the book I've read the most and am most familiar. But after reading Holland's commentary I've experienced the gospel in Romans anew.

A Balancing Act

What I appreciate most about Holland's methodology is his carefulness with the text. For instance, he stands within the Reformed stream on justification but also persuasively and carefully argues we must not assume every instance of the word justification carries the legal connotation. He points out

"Justification" (Rom 3:24) is also a new exodus term. When Israel was brought out of exile in Babylon, she was said to have been justified (Isa 50:8; 53:11). The expression spoke of being removed from one kingdom and placed in another. (p. 91)

Some might feel uncomfortable with this idea of justification meaning more but again Holland doesn't deny the forensic meaning rather that both meanings are linguistically valid and paint a much grander and clearer picture of the work of God. I won't get into all the details but this balance and richness shines in his exegesis of Romans 4 and the progression in Paul's argument from the justification Abraham (covenantal thrust pp. 110-112, 147) to David (forensic thrust pp. 117-19, 206). Also, Holland walks the line with his emphasis on the corporate election. He understands election primarily as corporate a la the covenant community but he argues that doesn't wipe out a possible individual aspect of election.

Chewing On This

I've been digesting Romans: The Divine Marriage for the last few days but two passages in particular hit home. I could've come up with a dozen more passages but these two were my favorite. First, Holland just briefly made a comment about Jesus's parables but his point stuck with me. He says,

This understanding of the reason for Israel's blessing [God doesn't show favortism] is found in many of the parables of Jesus. Often they are read as teaching for the church, and while there is obviously instruction in them, they were not intended or delivered in that way. The parables were essentially critical assessments of Israel's failure to be the true servant of Yahweh. So, for example, the "talents" of Jesus' parable recorded in Matt 25:14-15 are not natural abilities but money or treasure. They were symbolic of the treasure of the knowledge of God that Israel was to share with the Gentiles. The severity of God's judgement is the measure of how signally Israel failed in her task (p. 60)

Second, I have often wrestled with my own depression through the message of Romans. I've cried out "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?" (Rom 8:33) but Hollands drives the point of this passage home forcefully. He expounds,

Paul already dealt the possibility of an accusation of guilt being brought against the church for entering into another marriage relationship (Rom 6:7; 7:1-4). Satan will accuse Christ and the church that their union is not lawful. Should the call go out: "if anyone can show any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together in matrimony, let him now declare it, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace" he is read to cry out: "She is mine. She is already married." It is into this awful scene that Paul confidently declares: "It is God who justifies!" The judge of the whole earth will accept there is a charge to answer, and Paul states why this is so in the next verse [i.e., we have died with Christ and have risen to new life]. Of course, if Satan cannot persuade believers that it was unlawful for Christ to take his people as his bride then he will find other means to charge them. The answer to all charges, whatever they may be, is: "Christ has died and is rise! Hallelujah!" (p. 287)

Whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions you will appreciate Holland's respect for the Word of God and his desire to be faithful to the text. If you want to wrestle with a view different from yours which highly values the Word of God you shouldn't ignore Holland. As a matter of fact, I would argue that you're doing yourself a disservice if you have been. We all have cultural glasses which impact our reading of Scripture. Holland provides a necessary splash of water to the face of the slumbering evangelicalism--especially our infectious individualism. Bottom line: if you buy one commentary on Romans it should be this one.


Kingdom Man: Every Man's Destiny, Every Woman's Dream (DVD Leader Kit)
Kingdom Man: Every Man's Destiny, Every Woman's Dream (DVD Leader Kit)
by Tony Evans
Edition: DVD-ROM

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Mixed Bag, 4 April 2012
We Do Need Kingdom Men

We need a focus on charging men to take their Biblical responsibility as such seriously. Tony Evans takes this seriously and for that I'm glad. He begins by setting the stage,

The impact of lowered standards leaves its scars no matter what race, income bracket, or community a person is in. The outcomes may be different depending on the location, but they are just as devastating. Promiscuity, emptiness, depression, chronic irresponsibility, family breakup, misuse of finances, divorce, violence, chemical addiction. overeating, indulgence, bankruptcy, low self-esteem, and general aimlessness plague our society as a direct result of the abuse or neglect of biblical manhood. (p. 2)

I've never read any of his other books but it seems we share the same foundation of a complementarian understanding of men/women relationships. However, I fear in Kingdom Man that masculinity is confused with athletic prowess. I love sports but many men don't and for those men may find relating to Tony's message difficult because his favorite metaphor is athletics. Even for a guy like me who loves sports, the analogies wore me out by the end of the book. We have to do a better job communicating what true manhood is without falling back on sports as our primary analogy. Often I would argue that professional athletics have contributed heavily to the abuse that Tony is arguing against.

Kingdom Man is broken up into three parts which each build upon each other. In Part 1 ("The Formation of a Kingdom Man"), Tony begins by establishing the basis for his kingdom theology. He argues for the need of kingdom men to focus and glorify God (an emphasis throughout the book which I found refreshing see p. 6). There's also a strong emphasis on being great and fulfilling our destinies of being great for God.

In Part 2 ("The Foundation of a Kingdom Man"), Tony delves into how we exercise our rule and authority. He rightly reminds men we rule under God and often delegate responsibility and the need for an ezer (help-meet). The final chapters in the this section to are dedicated to examining the dominion covenant (name it and claim it).

In Part 3 ("The Function of a Kingdom Man"), Tony structures these final four chapters around Psalm 128. He applies the theology he has developed in the previous chapters to a kingdom man's personal life, family life, church life, and community life.

A Call to Greatness or Self-Help?

In Part 1 ("The Formation of a Kingdom Man"), a lot the practical advise ended up veering too much into the self-help category. In my estimation, this confusion could have been resolved with a more robust connection to the gospel and the person of Jesus. For instance, Tony says

Whether we are comfortable enough to admit it in spiritual circles, men want to be great.

I'll admit it; I don"t mind--I want to be great.

And if you were brutally honest, I would be bet that you also want to be great.

But what may surprise you, and what I would suggest, is that far from what we often hear in the biblical teaching on servanthood and humility is that God wants you to be great as well.

Not only does God want you to be great in His Kingdom, but He has destined you for it. (p. 38)

This concept is supported with some squishy exegesis (pp. 40-44 especially the discussion of John 14:12 and Matthew 20:25-26). I was glad when Tony cautioned "Men, what you never want to do in your desires to be great is to try to steal or usurp God's glory (p. 40).

My number one disappointment with Kingdom Man was the lack of direct connection with the gospel. When Paul talks about biblical manhood, headship, and submission, he always connects it back to the created order (which Tony does) and then to the gospel in Jesus (which Tony doesn't at least not explicitly).

The Dominion Covenant: Naming For God's Kingdom

At the root in developing the dominion covenant or what Tony calls naming (p. 108) is bad exegesis. He begins by examining the story of Adam naming the animals and then looks at the significance of names given to people in the Old Testament (pp. 109-10). He then recommends "to think in terms of your divinely given authority and responsibility. Take hold of creation; grab the piece of creation that God has for you to name" (p. 113). There's a logical leap made--because God had Adam name animals at creation that we should name things within the spiritual realm of our authority. Tony shares this anecdote,

I remember driving by this property one day and deciding to to pull my car right up in front of the vacant and now run-down building. Years passed since God had put it on my heart that this building was going to be used for His glory. So while looking at the building, I said, "God, I name that. I name this entire place for the good of others and your glory. We don't have the money for it right now, but God, hold it for us. Because I name it in Jesus' name." (p. 114)

He then goes on to explain that the Spirit laid the story of Joshua treading around Jericho and so he tread over the entire property naming it for Jesus. I was glad when he guarded against using this theology for personal gain:

It's important, though, to realize that naming does not mean claiming anything and everything you want. Neither is naming something solely for your personal benefit. Naming--like everything man is supposed to do--is always toed to God's glory and the expansion of His kingdom. (p. 115)

I was very grateful for his focus on the glory of God as the end. However, this much needed warning doesn't discount the fact the foundation for the practice of naming is on shaky exegetical ground. We dare not presumptuously claiming anything except the promises of God. We must be faithful in claiming these and only these.

For the reasons stated above, I can't give Kingdom Man a full-throttled endorsement. There was too much poor exegesis/theology mixed in with a right message (men need to step up). Biblical manhood is important and I'm glad Dr. Tony Evans understands this but I wish there a clearer connection with the gospel and also less of a mixed bag theology.


Parenting by God's Promises: How to Raise Children in the Covenant of Grace
Parenting by God's Promises: How to Raise Children in the Covenant of Grace
by Joel R. Beeke
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Read, 3 April 2012
Head and Shoulders

Joel Beeke draws from the deep well of covenant theology and provides us with a glass of cold water for parents seeking to honor the Lord. Christ and his cross-work are the central theme of this book. Beeke leans hard on the finished work of Christ and the promise made by God to those of us in Christ through the covenant of grace.

Beeke starts off in Part One ("Covenantal Foundations for Parenting") unpacking the truths found in Scripture surrounding Christ, the covenant of grace, and the gospel. He provides some well-needed, helpful encouragement for parents who take too much responsibility:

God teaches us that the success of happy, well-adjusted, spiritually minded, Christ-honoring, God-glorifying, Scripture-grounded children growing into adulthood is never because of us. Sometimes the Lord makes us realize our own insufficiency so that we learn to rest completely on the trustworthiness of His covenant and on the character of God Himself as the Author of it. (5)

He also warns about those within the stream of reformed theology who have wrongly presumed their children were converted and so failed to consistently call their children to belief and repentance (27-28).

In Part Two ("Parenting as Prophets, Priests, & Kings"), Beeke looks at the different roles parents must play in the home. Using Scriptural themes from the ministry of Jesus, we are to be prophets, priests, and kings. His section on being priests who are sensitive and sympathetic to their needs and weakness for our children was superb (Chapter 11 "Sympathizing with our Children"). He wisely reminds parents (Chapter 12 "Exercising Loving Rule as King"),

In matters involving nonessentials or "things indifferent," we can and should accommodate the wishes of our children. We should not get into needless contests of wills. We should never put ourselves into a bind where we say, "That's my word; I will never go back on anything I have said." In such situations, we just come across as stubborn and unreasonable. But where God's Word speaks, we cannot negotiate. In such matters, we must be absolutely consistent, not answering one way this time and another way the next. We must not convey to our children that the laws of our homes are negotiable and that our decisions are based on the whims of the moment rather than the God-given, unchanging principles of Scripture. Since we are the leaders in our homes, we are in charge, and we must command our households in a way that honors God (Gen. 18:19). (132)

I find myself too often saying no with no good reason except that I feel like saying no instead of delighting to say to yes to our children like God delights in saying yes to us in Christ.

In Part Three ("Practical Steps for Child-Rearing"), Beeke starts by tracing his steps back to our Puritan forefathers. He dispels the notion that the Puritans were heavy-handed legalists showing rather that their parenting was Christ-centered and practical. Beeke also offers some amazing insights into the marriages of Puritans. For those wanting to know what a loving Biblical marriages look like Beeke offers some wonderful insights into the husband/wife relationship from the Puritans (see 171-72). He then moves on to discuss the importance of piety (holiness), listening, controlling the tongue, and how we must manage sibling relationships.

In Part Four ("Practical Helps for Teenagers"), Beeke specifically targets teenagers. He notes this stage is particularly important because teenagers are transitioning from grown children to young adults. He provides practical wisdom like Solomon speaking to his own son about discerning God's will, conquering peer pressure, and managing anger. He concludes that the covenant blessing often are passed from one generation to the next (although not always) and so we must rear our children in a way that prepares them to love the Lord and raise a godly family within the covenant as well. He says,

In a certain sense, this entire book is about preparing children for marriage, but I want to go a bit deeper here. As parents, we are deeply concerned about whom our children will marry, but are we sufficiently concerned that our children become men and women who will make excellent husbands and wives for their future spouses? Too often we forget that it takes two to build a great marriage. (273)

God's Covenant Promise

The main difference between Beeke's Parenting by God's Promises and myriad of other parenting books currently available is the explicit covenant connection. Parenting by God's Promises is robustly reformed in its theology and application therein. He says,

The covenant of grace is like a wedding vow that God will never break. The sacrament of baptism is the wedding ring, the outward sign of our union with Him. People broken by sin who have been taught by the Spirit to trust in the gospel are the bride. And Christ is the groom--indeed, the heart of the covenant. (xvi)

I found his covenantal perspective refreshingly biblical and in stark contrast to most pragmatism offered to Christian parents. He attempts to moor all his parenting advice to directives of Scriptures or commands which "by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture" (WCF I. VI). Hand in hand with that praise, Beeke also mentions many applications of his reformed faith which I respect but many might disagree with. For instance, he recommends a strict sabbath-keeping.

One of the strengths of the reformed church has been the intentional instruction of children particularly through catechizing them. Beeke strongly encourages parents to read through all of Scripture with their children once a year; he also recommends the use of question and answers (catechisms). These kinds of intentional parenting methods are all but absent from wider evangelicalism. I recently conducted an informal survey of about a dozen people ranging from active and sedentary Christians, seminary students, and pastors and out of a dozen people only two had an intentional method for growing themselves in Christ and spent regular time in the word. This lack of intentionality trickles down to the care of our families and has had deadly results. His practical, intentional advice on teaching our children was a rebuke for me and an encouragement to move forward.

The Greatest of These is Love

Finally, I found his emphasis on loving our children by being gracious and respectful refreshing. Christians often respond to the lack of discipline in our culture by only focusing on spanking and forms of corporal punishment. Beeke touches on these valuable truths but he balances them so well with the equally important manner in which we flood our children's lives with grace and love. He recommends a level of gentleness through out which many parents would do well to heed. I fear too often parents make two mistakes--failing to offer any discipline and, when it's offered, reacting out of frustration and not out of love and grace. I could sense that this book flowed out years of parental and pastoral experience founded in a genuine love for Jesus.

Parenting by God's Promises is extremely readable and could be consumed with out problems by any level of reader. Even for those who may not agree 100% with all of his covenant theology (i.e., infant baptism) or with some of his application ("gosh" as a breaking of the second commandment), this book is an invaluable resource. It's gospel-saturated, rich with wisdom, and values holiness.


Contours of Pauline Theology: A Radical New Survey of the Influences on Paul's Biblical Writings
Contours of Pauline Theology: A Radical New Survey of the Influences on Paul's Biblical Writings
by Tom Holland
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.92

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book, 29 Mar 2012
New Exodus & the Paschal Community

The main thrust of Contours of Pauline Theology is that Paul did not depart from the gospel taught by Jesus and that his message was not hellenized; it was rooted in the Old Testament and in particular "the model of the Passover and the Exodus which he sees to have been a type of the work of Jesus" (12). In this way, what Holland is suggesting is a radical departure from the some of the popular and prominent New Testament scholarship.

He also emphasizes a corporate understanding of the New Testament epistles.

The significance of the synagogue experience was that it controlled the way Paul heard the Jewish scriptures. Hearing it corporately was not a distorting influence, for the messages of the prophets were rarely delivered to individuals, they were delivered to the people of the covenant collectively. The gathered congregation was therefore the ideal setting to hear the same word being delivered to another generation of the covenant people.

The same principle is being followed in Paul's letters. He expects the believers to gather together to hear them read. Indeed, the possibility of individuals having their own private copy could hardly have crossed the mind of the apostle. He wrote his letters to them to be read out and his arguments were therefore constructed with that setting in mind. In other words, the practice of interpreting letters written to churches as though they were to individuals, causes serious distortion when it comes to interpreting their contents. The letters are not about what God has done or is doing for a Christian. They are what God has done or is doing for His covenant people, the church. (40)

Upon these two ideas hang the entire book. Section One ("Explorations of Heritage") sets the stage by examining past and current Pauline scholarship. In particular he works to show that the inter-testamental literature is not reliable to establish a monolithic Judaism. He also introduces the corporate understanding against the backdrop of Isaiah's Suffering Servant. Section Two ("Passover and Community") moves full force into exploring and unpacking the corporate understanding and introduces the paschal ("passover") theme. Paramount to his argument is an understanding Romans 6 and the phrase "body of sin." I found his exegesis very compelling for a corporate understanding of this passage. This section for me was the most thought provoking.

Section Three ("Soteriology and Passover") introduces the paschal theme into the doctrine of Redemption by examining Romans 3. Chapter 9 interacts with the New Perspective on Paul (he brings in E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, & N.T. Wright to name a few). He attacks some of the foundational understandings of the NPP about second temple Judaism and then asks why should those same presuppositions then be used to interpret Paul in other places? He offers his an understanding of justification which emphasizes the corporate understanding while retaining the judicial, forensic emphasis of the Reformers. Holland places the judicial, forensic understanding in the Hebrew, covenantal court, not a Roman court. He therefore argues that justification is about creating a covenant in Christ and declaring sinners righteous on the basis of that covenant. Later in the book he offers a selection from Reformers which seem to emphasize to some extent the kernel of his understanding (see Appendix 3 "The Reformed Faith and Justification").

Section Four ("Christology and Passover") discusses the meaning of firstborn. Holland argues the term should be understood as a paschal reference in connection with the paschal propitiation theme unpacked in chapter 8 ("The Paschal Community and Redemption"). He then examines current scholarship surrounding the Colossian Hymn seeking to show that the paschal theme works better exegetically.

Justification: Creating the Covenant

The section that will give most reformed readers pause will be the section on justification. There's something about discussing that doctrine which gets the blood flowing to the brain and rightly so. There were many points made in this book that I immediately said, "That makes sense" like his discussion on "the body of sin" (Romans 6) and the sexual/marriage imagery of 1 Corinthians 6. I did find his suggestion we understanding the forensic nature of justification not in Roman judicial terms but in Hebrew judicial terms compelling but I'm still not 100% sold on justification as primarily creating covenant. The strength of many of his previous argument though does strengthens his point on justification.

Dig A Little Deeper

Contours of Pauline Theology was immensely readable but you would benefit from some cursory understanding of Pauline scholarship especially as it relates to the New Perspective. I found the themes Holland unpacked thought provoking and exegetically sound. I'll be starting my New Testament reading in my own personal study and will be compelled to look for these themes and dig out of some of their implications as I read. Holland also unpacks his corporate understanding in a more recently released Romans: The Divine Marriage which got a recommendation from Douglas Moo who is one of the premiere scholars on Romans.

I'm happy to report that Dr. Holland was gracious enough to allow me to ask him a couple questions about these themes via email (a sort of informal interview if you will). I feel very honored and humbled that he took the time to converse with me. I will be posting this interview early next week as as a follow up to this review.


CONTOURS OF PAULINE THEOLOGY
CONTOURS OF PAULINE THEOLOGY
by HOLLAND TOM
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful Book, 29 Mar 2012
Justification: Creating the Covenant

The section that will give most reformed readers pause will be the section on justification. There's something about discussing that doctrine which gets the blood flowing to the brain and rightly so. There were many points made in this book that I immediately said, "That makes sense" like his discussion on "the body of sin" (Romans 6) and the sexual/marriage imagery of 1 Corinthians 6. I did find his suggestion we understanding the forensic nature of justification not in Roman judicial terms but in Hebrew judicial terms compelling but I'm still not 100% sold on justification as primarily creating covenant. The strength of many of his previous argument though does strengthens his point on justification.

Dig A Little Deeper

Contours of Pauline Theology was immensely readable but you would benefit from some cursory understanding of Pauline scholarship especially as it relates to the New Perspective. I found the themes Holland unpacked thought provoking and exegetically sound. I'll be starting my New Testament reading in my own personal study and will be compelled to look for these themes and dig out of some of their implications as I read. Holland also unpacks his corporate understanding in a more recently released Romans: The Divine Marriage which got a recommendation from Douglas Moo who is one of the premiere scholars on Romans.

I'm happy to report that Dr. Holland was gracious enough to allow me to ask him a couple questions about these themes via email (a sort of informal interview if you will). I feel very honored and humbled that he took the time to converse with me. I will be posting this interview early next week as as a follow up to this review.


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