I am training to be a lay reader and this is one of the recommended course books. I borrowed it from our library before buying. It can only be borrowed for 7 days at a time rather than the standard 4 weeks indicating that it is considered a very popular reference book. It is not a NT commentary book. It covers much more background information and shows how the different books relate back to the Old Testament and introduces basic concepts as and when they appear in the NT books. Interestingly the order of the chapters is not based on the order of the NT books but of the different authors. It looks at what the underlying theme of the book is about, what response it is trying to address.
At 975 pages this introduction to the New Testament is comprehensive. It is supported by an excellent index, itself helpfully supplemented by a scripture index. Tables, charts and photographs are used to superb effect to convey information and the narrative is generally straightforward and readable.
It is a book to treasure and could well usefully grace a reference shelf. As well as a study text it can be used as a reference book, for example, to look up first century Roman Emperors, details of the Herodian dynasty and a myriad of other useful subjects.
But it deserves two criticisms, both illustrated in the following sentence in the introduction to the section on "The Four Gospels and the One Jesus"
"Then we will investigate the currents by which Jesus' sayings and stories about Jesus flowed through the decades of his earthly ministry down to the pools from which the Evangelists drew their living waters"
You might think he was a Victorian novelist; to be fair these fanciful flights of language were few and far between and, therefore, not overly intrusive.
Of more concern, though, are the assumptions, present throughout the text and, in one case, implied in the single sentence quoted above. The extract proceeds on the assumption that the evangelists were beholden years later to written texts and sources and largely ignores the rather obvious possibility that three of the evangelists could draw on being eye witnesses and contemporaries to Jesus' ministry. Whilst he is, of course, perfectly entitled to adopt a view on the dates of authorship of the gospels he discounts consideration of early dates, to which an increasing number of Evangelical scholars are returning. His rhetoric is Evangelical and it would be unfair to question his position as being so. But he repeatedly adopts critical assumptions which are far from Evangelical and this spoiled the experience of absorbing the wealth of knowledge which he otherwise ably presents. It makes for a wary and at times weary read.
It would be an attractive addition to my shelf - but having completed the course I rather think I am minded to get the reference information from other sources and recoup my outlay.