What I’m reading…

Book recommendations from our faculty. Below our Old Testament Tutor Rev Dr David Firth shares two books to enrich your preaching and teaching.

One of the privileges of my role is that I get to see a range of books which might be of value to those in pastoral ministry. ‘Value’ here has two senses – it should enrich a pastor’s ministry but it should also not be too expensive. Given that my own teaching role is focused on the Old Testament, the books I recommend will inevitably be skewed in that direction. However, just to show that isn’t always the case, I have included a commentary on the New Testament for this posting.

Thomas R. Schreiner, 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018)

In my view, an essential for any pastor’s library is a good collection of commentaries. Whatever model of preaching they follow, there will inevitably be points where they need to wrestle with the text. For the New Testament, the Tyndale New Testament Commentary has long been a staple. As with the companion Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, the whole of this set is currently being rewritten, mostly as completely new commentaries rather than updates of the previous volume. This commentary by Tom Schreiner thus replaces the earlier volume by Leon Morris, itself one of the best works in the original series. But Morris was writing when a different paradigm guided the study of Paul, so a completely new volume is definitely required. Schreiner is well qualified to contribute this work, having written extensively on a range of topics in the New Testament. Although he has presented a work which stays true to the vision of the series (to present a commentary that is focused on exegesis and which is generally accessible), this is a much more complete work than that of Morris. One element of this is a focus on the current significance of the letter, something visible even in the introduction where he notes that this letter speaks to us today ‘because the problems addressed still afflict us’ (p. 16). This element is easier to see in the body of the commentary now than in in the original series because of the presentation of each section which now concludes with a section headed ‘Theology.’ Within the space constraints, Schreiner has presented a short commentary which is admirably suited to the series goals. There are numerous points of debate about the letter’s interpretation, but Schreiner takes an irenic approach. As a result, even where I am not in full agreement with his interpretation (e.g. 14:34-35) there is much to admire, and if we know why we disagree then we are forced back to the text itself. This is surely a good thing.

Richard P. Belcher Jr., Finding Favor in the Sight of God: A Theology of Wisdom Literature (London: Apollos, 2018)

Along with commentaries, it is good to make an attempt to stay current with wider discussions in biblical studies and theology. The New Studies in Biblical Theology are often useful for this, providing studies brief enough to be accessible while still stretching us to see new possibilities in studying the Bible. Richard Belcher’s study of the wisdom literature specifically aims to assist pastors who want to be faithful preachers of these texts. Although the boundaries of the wisdom literature are often contested (an issue Belcher addresses in his opening chapter), his focus here is on the three Old Testament books most commonly given this label – Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. Belcher has published commentaries on both Job and Ecclesiastes, so this is clearly an area where he is well informed, though he has a lightness of touch to his presentation so that we are not constantly dragged off into scholarly debates. Rather, Belcher aims throughout to help the reader come to a better understanding of each book. As he progresses through each, he gradually focuses on how these books might be used today. I found his treatment of Proverbs and Job especially persuasive, though my reading of Ecclesiastes does not see the book in quite such negative terms as Belcher suggests (though he is following a well-established path of interpretation). Even so, his suggestions about how pastors might draw on all three books are well made. Of particular importance is his closing chapter on Jesus and wisdom as a feature of Jesus’ own teaching and how the New Testament as a whole draws on it in presenting both his person and his work. In this, we see that wisdom is not something restricted to the Old Testament, but rather an important and continuing part of Christian faith and discipleship.

In all, two books that may well be worth adding to your library. Belcher expects rather more work from his readers than does Schreiner, largely because this is a slightly more technical work, but both can be of value to pastors.

Posted January 2019


Revd Dr David Firth

Tutor in Old Testament and Academic Dean at Trinity College

While completing his BTh at Morling College in Sydney, Australia, David felt a calling to participate in the global work of the gospel. He and his wife Lynne spent a year in the UK while David completed an MA (with a dissertation looking at poverty and wealth in Amos) at London Bible College. The couple then spent seven years in Africa working with the Australian Baptist Missionary Society, training local believers to take on the work there. David completed his PhD (on responses to violence in the Psalms) through the University of Pretoria while the Firths were working in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Through a long process, God led them to pastoral work in Sydney again and then to the UK, where David has taught Old Testament at Cliff College, St John’s Nottingham, and now Trinity College Bristol.

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