Review: The Jesus of the Gospels

The Jesus of the Gospels: An Introduction, Andreas J. Köstenberger. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2020.

Summary: An introduction to the four gospels, providing accessible scholarship, introductions and commentary focused on Jesus, to whom each gospel witnesses.

How I wish I had this work as a young Christian reading the New Testament for the first time (the Old Testament would come later). I thought back as I read through this work how much I had missed in my early readings. Sure, I noticed the amazing, and sometimes perplexing, things Jesus taught and did. I noticed the similarities between the first three gospels, and some of the differences but had no sense of why they were different. Then there was John, which seemed so different. But I missed so much that Andreas Köstenberger highlights in this work, designed as a companion for new readers and students of the gospels.

In the introduction and first chapter the author sets out his basic premises for the book. He accepts these as accounts either by witnesses or based on eyewitness accounts that are trustworthy, coherent, and centered on the person of Christ. Rather than provided lengthy discussions of critical scholarship, the focus is on the text in its context. Citing the “quests for the historical Jesus” which often are reflections of the interpreters, Köstenberger’s approach is to allow each gospel to speak for itself, offering four complementary accounts of Jesus life, and he advocates the reading of all four gospels, proceeding in the canonical order.

After the introductory material, the author takes a chapter for each gospel. First he answers the questions of who is the person to whom the gospel is attributed, how they tell the story of Jesus, what their distinctive emphases are and the major contours or outline of the gospel. This is followed by passage by passage commentary of the text with helpful background, and occasional sidebars (for example on “The Herods in the New Testament”). At the end of each section, there is a Recap, summarizing the section and how this connects to the theme.

Köstenberger notes key structural features of each gospels, such as the five sections of teaching in Matthew, or the book of signs and book of exaltation structure of John. He calls attention to the “Markan sandwich” and alerts the reader to instances of this. He shows Luke’s concern for women and the outsider. He also offers a list of suggested resources for those interested in further study (although all of these were written by him!) and a thirty day reading plan to work through the gospels.

The book is a large format paperback that easily lies flat on a desk (or one’s lap) while you are reading your Bible. The commentary is easy to read and often offers applications. This is a great resource for anyone beginning to read the gospels, for anyone wanting to discover Jesus again, or perhaps for the first time.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit (Theology for the People of God), Gregg R. Allison & Andreas J. Kostenberger. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2020.

Summary: First in a new series, a biblical and systematic theology of the Holy Spirit, evangelical and continuationist, but not pentecostal.

If the inaugural volume of this new series, “Theology for the People of God,” is any indication, this should be an outstanding set. Each volume pairs two theologians, one in biblical theology, and one in systematic theology to provide an integrated approach deeply rooted in the biblical text.

This approach forms the organization of this book in which the first half is devoted to biblical theology, carefully considering each relevant text on the Holy Spirit in each book and major portion of scripture, followed by synthesizing the teaching of all of scripture on various theological aspects of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It is an approach that is thorough, covering the ground, while providing notes and references for those who wish to dig deeper.

A few highlights for each part. In the biblical theology section, each chapter, or sometimes, subsection, provides a chart with all the references to the Holy Spirit and a phrase summarizing the content. One old Testament highlight was the discussion of the Holy Spirit in Isaiah, anointing the Messiah, and empowering the servant of the Servant Songs to bring good news to the poor, and the Spirit’s role in the new exodus and the new creation.

The New Testament portion was lengthier, with treatment of the gospels, Acts, the Pauline works, the general epistles, and Revelation. Kostenberger summarizes the Spirit’s work in Acts with seven points that will preach!

  1. The Spirit is a person and clearly divine.
  2. The Spirit establishes the eschatological messianic community of the exalted Jesus.
  3. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of mission.
  4. The Spirit fills all believers.
  5. The Spirit is the Spirit of prophecy.
  6. The Spirit convicts people and holds them to moral standards.
  7. The Holy Spirit directs the affairs of the church.

The section on systematic theology left me at times worshiping God the Spirit and our wondrous Triune God. After an introduction laying out methodology and themes, Allison begins with the deity, the intratrinitarian relations and trinitarian processions. Careful discussion delineates both the inseparability of the works of Father, Son, and Spirit, and yet what may be said to be specific to each. Then, in successive chapters, the author discusses the Spirit in creation and providence, in relation to the inspiration and illumination of scripture, a fascinating chapter distinguishing the Spirit and angelic beings, the Spirit’s relation to human beings and sin, the Spirit’s work Christ, salvation, the church, and the future. The author addresses contemporary issues in pneumatology (the three ages, Spirit-emphasizing movements, and the Spirit and theology of religions). The concluding chapter is applicative, addressing our worship of the Spirit, our reliance on the Spirit’s illuminating work, our thanksgiving for the Spirit’s application of Christ’s work in our life, and keeping in step with and being guided by the Spirit.

The book is marked by a clarity of language and explanation and summary throughout, making this a great text for a course in theology or for the lay person wishing to understand more deeply the person and work of the Spirit. One possible criticism of the work is little engagement with theologians in the developing world. Inclusion of theological discussions and issues outside the white European and North American contexts will make this a more broadly useful text. The authors do engage pentecostal and charismatic theology, appreciative of the emphasis on the ministry of the Spirit, affirming, against some Reformed understanding, the continuation of the gifts and empowering work of the Spirit for mission. However they would associate the baptism of the Holy Spirit with conversion and not as a second and subsequent act. The response is gracious, and they denounce the vitriol that has often existed. The concluding pastoral applications are worth the price of the book.

In sum, this book sets a high bar for this series, marked as it is by an approach in which systematic theology is built on biblical theology. It models this work well for young pastors and theologians and offers the clarity of teaching that both preserves doctrinal integrity, and warmth of devotion.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.