Archives For Commentaries

C. S. Lewis is often considered one of the foremost apologists of the Christian faith of last century. Lewis’ approach to articulating and defending the Christian faith has been influential to many Evangelicals. What was it that made him fruitful and inimitable?

Ben Witherington interviews Alister McGrath about his biography C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet. In this installment Witherington asks McGrath about Lewis’ approach to apologetics, particularly now that we have passed from a modern to a postmodern day.

The gist of McGrath’s response, which I include below, is that Lewis combines reason and the imagination to present a new view of the world which is centered in truth.

Lewis is probably the best apologist of the twentieth century. Nobody has arisen to rival him, although he has many imitators. Why was Lewis so successful? I think the answer lies in his unique combination of reason and imagination, which I find in very few other apologists. His Oxford colleague and fellow-apologist Austin Farrer, Warden of Keble College, once suggested that Lewis’s apologetic approach might initially look like a modernist rational argument; but when you look more closely, you realize that it is actually an encouragement to see things in a new way, and thus grasp the rationality of faith through the imagination. Lewis, Farrer suggested, makes us “think we are listening to an argument”, when in reality “we are presented with a vision, and it is the vision that carries conviction.”

Lewis helps us to see that apologetics doesn’t have to take the form of a rather dull modernist argument, but can be understood and presented as an invitation to step into the Christian way of seeing things. If worldviews or metanarratives can be compared to lenses, which of them brings things into sharpest focus? Lewis’s explicit appeal to reason involves an implicit appeal to the imagination. Perhaps this helps us understand why Lewis appeals to both modern and postmodern people. Yes, Lewis affirms the rationality of the universe, in a way that would please a modern thinker. Yet he does so without lapsing into the cold logic and dreary argumentation that so often accompany modernist apologetics. Yes, Lewis affirms the power of images and narratives to captivate our imagination. Yet he does this without giving up on the primacy of truth, which is one of my major concerns about some postmodern approaches. I think we can all learn from this.

What do you think? How do you approach the articulation and defense of gospel truth today? What can we learn from Lewis?

In reading Luke’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Lk. 19:29-40), we see not only the jubilant, worshipful response of the disciples to Jesus, but also the Pharisees inappropriate response and request for them to be silent. Though stated with the religious weight of the experts on the law, their response and request revealed both their spiritual deadness and spiritual blindness. In fact, true worship of Jesus, the Messiah and King, cannot be negated. Even if human beings would have been silent, the stones would have cried out.

Here are a few thoughts, comments and applications.

First, Jesus is the agent of creation, which means all has been created through him and for him (Col. 1:16; Rev. 4:11). Although not all recognize his Lordship at present, all will at some point in the future (Phil. 2:9-11). Even creation at present groans, including stones, longing to be set free from its bondage to corruption (Rom. 8:18-23). This is an eschatological statement of what will happen. And amazingly, Christ’s resurrection means that this eschatological reality is not only future, but is present, and through faith in Christ that eschatological end-time truth is experienced now in the present. It certainly awaits an future day, but it is also experienced in the present-day. 

Second, Jesus is also the Redeemer which means he is to be worshipped. It is fitting and appropriate to worship the king who brings peace. For who Christ is and what he has done, his words “it is finished” (Jn. 19:30), the last words uttered on the cross, are completed by some of his first words spoken after the resurrection, “Peace be with you” (Jn. 20:21). In other words, the peace Jesus offers is accomplished through the cross. This means peace is first and foremost “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1) and then, secondly, peace with others (Eph. 2:14-16).

Third, more specifically to this incident, in asking Jesus to silence the disciples from praising and worshipping him would have been asking them to respond inappropriately to him. He is the Messiah, the king, the one who brings peace. The Pharisees are, whether they realize it or not, asking Jesus to renounce who he is.  

Fourth, it is impossible to squelch praise and worship of the Messiah, the king. Even if Jesus were to silence the disciples, which he would not do, even the stones would cry out. The stones cry reflects two truths. Not only would they cry out in praise and worship of their Maker, the Lord Jesus Christ, but they would also cry out in judgment (cf. Hab. 2:1) against the Pharisees who attempted to silence the appropriate response to the Jesus (cf. Lk. 3:8, where John says “God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”)

Fifth, Jesus’ person and presence generate a response, and it requires an appropriate response. Silencing Jesus or disciples will not negate that he is the king nor will it negate God’s purposes. The response will manifest the person’s true condition.

Sixth, since no one remains exempt from responding to Christ, there are only two responses: one of praise and worship, the other of silence. As aptly concluded by C. S. Lewis, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’” 

Finally, and in sum, there is “deep irony” in Jesus’ response. “In an ardent refusal to stop the messianic confession of his followers,” concludes Darrell Bock (Luke, vol. 2, 1560), “he says that if they ceased, creation would cry out in testimony to him. Creation is aware of Jesus but the leadership of the nation is not. That which is lifeless knows life when it sees it, even though that which is living does not. Luke portrays their rejection as a tragic, stinging indictment of their lack of judgment.”

Luke 19:29-40: When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.'” So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near– already on the way down the Mount of Olives– the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

Yesterday we remembered and celebrated Palm Sunday, the day in the church year in which we focus on Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This is the beginning of his final week prior to the cross, the culmination of his earthly ministry he came to accomplish.

This is one of my favorite texts as I ponder these last days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Consider the following:

  • Jesus gives a task to his disciples and informs them what they will find even before it happens.
  • Jesus requests what the disciples are to do and what they are to say when they request the colt from its owner (notice that this colt is specific, one that has never been ridden).
  • The disciples do what is requested and the owner grants the request without any questions (at least the text does not inform us of any objection). The statement “The Lord has need of it” was sufficient.
  • All the behavior toward Jesus was reflective of a triumph. This response was given to a king.
  • All those following him, “the whole multitude of his disciples,” worshipped and praised God for what the mighty works they had seen performed by Jesus.
  • In this worship, the disciples’ response reflects the Old Testament Scriptures as they quote from Psalm 118:26. This text is sung in light of all that is happening with and around Jesus.
  • One of the key truths to this quoted expression from the Psalms, this “worship” song, was the blessing given to the king. This is a royal psalm, one which was recited during the enthronement of the king. This informs and prepares them for the Messiah and the nearness of the eschatological fulfillment.
  • Since Jesus comes in the name of the Lord, to praise and worship him is to praise and worship God. To deny this praise and worship is not only to reject Jesus, it is also to reject God.
  • This text also indicates that Jesus is associated with peace, much like Luke records the peace that accompanies Jesus’ birth (Lk. 2:10-14) and the peace that he brings and offers after his crucifixion and resurrection (Lk. 24:36).
  • In contrast, the Pharisees were scandalized by this expression of praise and worship given to Jesus. To them, this response was completely inappropriate and needed to be corrected immediately. They demanded of Jesus that he silence the disciples.
  • Jesus gives the divine response: this response was fitting and appropriate, and if not expressed by human beings, those created in the image of God, then “the very stones would cry out,” God’s inanimate creation.

A few questions:

  • What do you highlight as you read this text?
  • What do you appreciate about what it teaches?
  • What are the applications in your life?

In tomorrow’s blog post (Part 2) I will conclude with a few comments and applications.

Commentaries: A Follow Up

Greg Strand – February 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Since not many interact formally with comments, I thought it would be helpful if I post this comment made by Steve along with my response so that the personal conversation taking place between two could be overheard by others. As you will read, the comment addresses the post on the uses and abuses of commentaries.

Steve comments:

I find using commentaries important to avoid my own errors in reading and application. Carson, Longman, and Glynn are all helpful. When at TEDS in the early 1990s, Richard Allen Bodey advised me to obtain as many good commentaries as possible on the particular book of the Bible I was preaching on at the time. One way I use commentaries is to answer questions that come up in personal study and conversations. I also make use of the comments in study Bibles. While too brief for detailed exegetical analysis, good study Bibles are a cost effective way to get help with synthesis and even some particular questions that longer commentaries have missed. My favorites include The Gospel Transformation Bible, The ESV Study Bible, The NIV Study Bible, and The Archaeological Study Bible.

 My response:

Thank you, Steve, for sharing how you use commentaries. I followed a similar principle, which means I would build my commentary library book by book, not only in reference to purchasing books (commentaries) but the biblical book through which I was teaching/preaching would be the focus of my commentary purchases. Then, as mentioned by Carson, I would purchase commentaries that addressed the different aspects necessary to understand the book and to engage in solid, faithful exegesis. This is why I never did purchase a set – sets are sporadic with some commentaries excellent, others good, still others average, while some are poor. I would, rather, buy the best commentaries in the various categories listed by Carson, regardless of the series in which they were published. The exception to this in order to build a library would be to purchase a set if it is at a greatly discounted price. Another way to build a commentary library today is through computer programs like Logos. Your mention of study Bibles is also an important reminder since there have been some very good ones published over the past few years, some which you noted.

Good Commentaries – Uses and Abuses

Greg Strand – February 14, 2014 4 Comments

As preachers and teachers of the Word, we desire to understand and proclaim the Scriptures faithfully. If the text is not understood it will lead to incorrect teaching which results in misapplication. Furthermore, if one does not grasp where this text fits in the immediate context, in the section, in the book, in the Testament, in the Bible, one will be miss God’s redemptive plan which finds its climax in Jesus, who is the interpretive lens through which we read and understand all of the Scriptures (cf. Matt. 5:17-20; Lk. 24:25-27; Acts 28:23; Rom. 10:4; 2 Cor. 1:20). In our EFCA Statement of Faith, this is captured in the expression “Jesus – Israel’s promised Messiah” (Article 4, Jesus Christ).

Commentaries serve as one of the important resources to aid in our preparation to teach and preach God’s Word. But with the many commentaries (and not all are written equal!), how does one go about choosing which are the best ones, and for what purposes?

Two excellent resources I have used over the years are Tremper Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey, 5th ed. (Baker Academic) and D. A. Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey , 7th ed. (Baker Academic). New editions of both have recently been published.

Carson was interviewed with this question in focus: What Makes a Good Commentary. Though I encourage you to read the complete interview, three questions and responses were particularly helpful. I have delineated the paragraphs below in questions two and three to into separate points to highlight them.

What makes for a good commentary? How ought an average pastor determine which commentaries to purchase?

Good all-round commentaries help readers think their way through the text—which requires adequate handling of words, sentences, flow of thought, genre, theological presuppositions, knowledge of historical setting, and, ideally, a commentary writer who is humble and of a contrite spirit and who trembles at God’s Word. But most commentaries do not do all these things (and other things—e.g., interaction with some other commentaries) equally well. That is one of the reasons one is usually wise to consult at least two or three commentaries with different emphases.

Most commentaries (though there are some exceptions) are quite poor at integrating exegesis of the text at hand with whole-Bible biblical theology. This is a huge lacuna. If you run from exegesis directly to application, you will often get things wrong and tend to drift toward privatized applications. In other words, it is important to understand any part of God’s Word in terms of the book, corpus, and entire canon, to grasp how texts drive toward Jesus and the gospel, before too much application is attempted.

More broadly, most commentaries can’t do much toward faithful and telling application. Although the biblical text (explained by the commentary) ought to have a major say in shaping your sermon outline, few commentaries will help you at that point—and most of those that try to do so are not very good. Reading commentaries will not necessarily turn you into a good exegete: that requires more focused reading of the text itself.

What are some common pitfalls to avoid in the use of commentaries?

To name a few:

    1. If you read the commentaries too soon in the process, instead of wrestling with the text itself, you will not become a skilled reader, and all your material will feel secondhand.
    2. If you read the commentaries too late in the process, or, worse, not at all, you are failing to tap into generations of stimulating thought undertaken by Christians and others who have come before you, so you may overlook important things that you should not miss.
    3. If you rely too heavily on commentaries at the expense of continuing reading in biblical, historical, systematic, and pastoral theology, your sermons will tend to be reduced to running commentaries, instead of carrying the weight of the burden of a message from the text at hand.
    4. Avoid using commentaries as a substitute for careful reading and importunate intercession. One of the things we need in our preaching is unction—and commentaries, in themselves, cannot provide that.

If a preacher only has time to consult, say, two commentaries per passage, what principles would you give to help guide his choice?

[Seven Principles]

    1. Consult different kinds of commentaries (e.g., at least one on the original text [if the preacher can read Greek and Hebrew], partly so that your tools will remain sharp. In all language work, use it or lose it.).
    2. Another commentary might be stronger in actual exposition.
    3. Ideally at least one of them will say important things about the genre and structure of thought in the biblical book being studied.
    4. Ideally one of them will reflect on the history of interpretation (e.g., what did the church fathers say? what did the Reformers say?);
    5. ideally one of them will be strong on words and syntax.
    6. Ideally at least one will have been written by someone who transparently hungers to be mastered by the Word of God.
    7. I should add that all commentaries are written from some vantage point or other, and it is important to learn what that vantage point is and make allowance for it.

Suddenly, the limitation to two commentaries seems unreasonable!

Do you use commentaries? How do you determine which commentaries to use? How do you use them?