on Evaluating Books

I recently completed The Road by Cormac McCarthy. What do I think of the book? Well, the dust has yet to settle.

I’ve learned to take a day or a month to step back from a book, go about normal business, and let “the dust settle.” This patient wait for clarity is a lesson I learned in college from the writings of Virginia Woolf (1882–1941).

I’m no fan of Virginia Woolf, but her understanding of how the mind evaluates books—especially novels and poetry—has taught me patience when I find myself surrounded by the blizzard of details to wait until all has settled on the floor of my mind. Resisting the impulse of immediate critique allows a critical brain-simmer between the period a book is competed and when the book’s value becomes clear. This wait allows for a constructive subconscious process where fragmented thoughts are reshaped into a unified whole.

And Woolf encourages us to critique slowly because this process provides the necessary continuity to evaluate new books to the very best old books. Such is logical. Why would we ever read new books without reference to the superior books of the past?

Enough of me. Here’s how Woolf articulates these ideas:

The first process, to receive impressions with the utmost understanding, is only half the process of reading; it must be completed, if we are to get the whole pleasure from a book, by another. We must pass judgment upon these multitudinous impressions; we must make of these fleeting shapes one that is hard and lasting. But not directly. Wait for the dust of reading to settle; for the conflict and the questioning to die down; walk, talk, pull the dead petals from a rose, or fall asleep. Then suddenly without our willing it, for it is thus that Nature undertakes these transitions, the book will return, but differently. It will float to the top of the mind as a whole. And the book as a whole is different from the book received currently in separate phrases. Details now fit themselves into their places. We see the shape from start to finish; it is a barn, a pigsty, or a cathedral. Now then we can compare book with book as we compare building with building.

But this act of comparison means that our attitude has changed; we are no longer the friends of the writer, but his judges; and just as we cannot be too sympathetic as friends, so as judges we cannot be too severe. Are they not criminals, books that have wasted our time and sympathy; are they not the most insidious enemies of society, corrupters, defilers, the writers of false books, faked books, books that fill the air with decay and disease? Let us then be severe in our judgments; let us compare each book with the greatest of its kind. There they hang in the mind the shapes of the books we have read solidified by the judgments we have passed on them— Robinson Crusoe, Emma, The Return of the Native. Compare the novels with these—even the latest and least of novels has a right to be judged with the best.

And so with poetry—when the intoxication of rhythm has died down and the splendour of words has faded, a visionary shape will return to us and this must be compared with Lear, with Phèdre, with The Prelude; or if not with these, with whatever is the best or seems to us to be the best in its own kind. And we may be sure that the newness of new poetry and fiction is its most superficial quality and that we have only to alter slightly, not to recast, the standards by which we have judged the old.

-Virginia Woolf, “How Should One Read a Book?”

Machen Bio: Retro + Improved

Publishers frequently catch me by surprise. Sometimes (though thankfully not frequently) I’m surprised by my disappointment. But often publishers surprise me in a good way and that was the case very recently when a friend showed me his reprinted copy of Ned Stonehouse’s classic biography J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (Willow Grove, PA: Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2004).

I was immediately struck by the similarities it had to my original 1954 Eerdmans edition. Most obvious (and as you can see from the following photos) is the OPC’s attention to fashioning an updated, but similar, dust jacket to the original. That’s a nice touch. And I was surprised by the improvements, too. The text was retypeset and given a new subject index in the back. The most noteworthy upgrade is to see the bio published in a genuine cloth cover–a nice improvement over the Eerdmans faux cloth/paper cover that’s frayed on the bottom from shelfware. So let’s hear it for the new-ish OPC edition of Stonehouse–a classic work with a retro feel and nice upgrades well suited to carry the legacy of Machen for another 50 years.

Cloth or Paper? Bavinck RD Cover Concerns

[The definition of a bibliophile is “one who loves books, but especially for qualities of format.” I admit to being one. This post is intended for my fellow bibliophiles.]

Cloth-covered books are durable, resilient, and protect valuable books for decades of use, so I appreciate publishers who print books in cloth and find it easy to pay extra few bucks for these volumes.

However, not everything that looks like “cloth” is genuine cloth. Publishers have become advanced with using faux cloth covers, which amount to pressed and texturized paper used as an inexpensive way to add grain to a hardcover book without the added cost of real cloth. But those volumes are typically not sold as “cloth.”

Which brings me to yesterday when I received my long-awaited copy of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, Volume Four (Baker Academic, 2008). J.I. Packer says this work “remains after a century the supreme achievement of its kind.” Now completely translated from Dutch, it stands as one of the great reformed systematic theologies in the English language, and sports a hefty list price ($180.00)—a small price for a set I intend to use the rest of my life and one day pass to my children.

The first three of my volumes—all recently purchased—were genuine cloth covered (as advertised). Or so I assumed. But my curiosity was raised yesterday when my fourth and final volume arrived. I removed the dust jacket and noticed the cover on the final volume lacked the same depth of texture as the first three volumes. And it didn’t have the same laminated matte finish over the cloth but the feel of, well, paper. That’s when I decided to tug on the spine. [For those of you longtime TSS readers you will not be surprised at my biblio-destructive tendencies]. I pinched the cover over the spine, and with little effort, the cover tore like a piece of newspaper. Cloth doesn’t rip (at least not diagonally).

As you can see from the pics, the cover on my volume is nothing more than pressed paper—a cloth-like feel, a cloth-like appearance, but without any cloth.

My tinge of guilt for tearing Bavinck (gasp!) was overcome by the feeling of adrenaline a muscle man must experience tearing phone books. So I decided to test my three other Bavinck volumes. I discovered two volumes were genuinely cloth (absolutely would not rip even under intense pressure), and a second volume that was paper. Here’s what I found:

Volume 1 – May 2007 printing – cloth
Volume 2 – August 2006 printing – paper
Volume 3 – July 2007 printing – cloth
Volume 4 – 2008 printing – paper

As you can see from the table of contents page in volume 4, Baker claims all four volumes were printed in cloth.

I’ve contacted Baker Academic and will pass along updates as I receive them, especially if I can find a way to replace the paper editions with cloth editions.

Some questions for TSS readers:

(1) Do you own copies of Baker’s printings of Reformed Dogmatics? Which volumes? What are the print dates?

(2) Does the copyright page claim the volume is cloth?

(3) If so—and if you dare—pinch the top of the cover over the spine and try ripping it (ever so slightly) to see if you, too, have a “paperback”. And let me know in the comments. [No need for any more examples.]

Perhaps—and let’s hope—my two copies are aberrations.

Young, Restless, and Reformed

youngrestlessreformedcollinhansen.jpgRecently I had the honor of reading Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, and Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists (Crossway). Hansen is an editor at Christianity Today. From my perspective, the book reads like the reader is riding shotgun as Collin travels around the country in search of discovering the far reaches of the emerging Calvinism so obvious among large groups of young Christian men and women.

The book does not set out to answer the question: “Where’d all the Calvinists come from?” But it does document the rise in a fascinating and engaging way and looks closely at the major figures and movements and how they shape the theology of the next generation of Calvinists.

Read it for the details. Read it to discover the influences among young folks. Read it it to hear stories of how individuals have been transformed by the doctrines of grace. Read it for the descriptive perception of the author. If you watch for new and excellent books, this one by Collin Hansen is a must-read coming your way in 2008. Due out April 30th from Crossway.

2007 TSS Books of the Year Award


The stack of excellent Christian books published in 2007 would reach at least 5 feet in the air. So while I’m privileged to have read so many great books, whittling down my top 30 favorites is no easy assignment.

In the past, some TSS readers have asked what criteria I use in making this determination and I admit it’s very subjective. My list of top books is based upon a personal opinion of the overall value of individual volumes. Which volumes pioneer new territory? Which books clarify topics of great importance? Which books from 2007 will my kids read in 10 years?

Included in the list are complex doctrinal books, academic polemics, historical biographies, children’s books, marriage books, exegetical guides, etc. My reading interests are wide open, and so is the TSS book of the year competition. There are book recommendations for pretty much all readers.

Themes in 2007

Topically, 2007 will be remembered as the year where precious doctrines like justification and the atonement took rightful center stage (see The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul, The Great Exchange by Bridges and Bevington, and also #3, #12, and #25 on the top-30 list). The doctrine of assurance was the focus of two excellent new volumes (see #13 and #23). Church history and the events of the Reformation found themselves in three excellent volumes (see #8, #11, and #30). But 2007 will also be remembered as the year of John Owen, reformed spirituality, and communion with God (see #6, #14, #15, and #21). We also saw the publishing of one of the best new children’s books (see #4). All around, it was a very fruitful year for some very important topics.

2007 Books of the Year

But two books stand apart from the rest in 2007, because they are volumes that promise to shed a wealth of understanding over large sections of Scripture. They captured my attention because I know I myself have some work to do in discovering the richness of God’s revealed truth in Scripture (and especially in the Old Testament narratives).

So today I happily announce the 2007 TSS books of the year – The ESV Literary Study Bible by Leland and Philip Ryken and An Old Testament Theology by Bruce Waltke.

TSS top-30 books from 2007

1 (tie). ESV Literary Study Bible edited by Leland and Philip Ryken (Crossway). Getting readers comfortable enough to read large selections of Scripture was formerly the work of dynamic equivalent translations like The Message. But the Rykens establish a framework for readers to comprehend large sections of Scripture for themselves by introducing each chapter, exposing the literary style of the work, and providing a general outline of what to expect. Then readers can jump into the literature of Scripture to experience the text for themselves. In the end, the Rykens have produced a Bible that retains the “word-for-word” literal language of the ancient Scriptures (ESV) while helping readers along in fruitful comprehension. Readers who have never enjoyed the Bible from cover-to-cover will especially benefit and find the biblical storyline easier to follow. This is no ordinary study Bible, and it is one that will be cherished by the church long into the future. We wrote a full review of the LSB and also talked with Leland Ryken about it this Summer. $31.49

1 (tie). An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach by Bruce Waltke (Zondervan). Some of the details of the Old Testament appear to simply hang suspended for the modern reader. Let’s take Exodus 2:11 for example: Why is it important that Moses became angry when he saw the harsh treatment of the Israelite by an Egyptian? Why did Moses kill the Egyptian? Why would the biblical author record this event in the first place? Some events in the Old Testament don’t entirely make sense on the surface. Waltke takes these events from the biblical narratives and weaves them into the bigger storyline of Scripture. For this specific example, it helps to understand that Moses was in transition from his identity in Pharaoh’s palace to his new identity with Israel (p. 352). Exodus 2:11 is actually critical in establishing Moses’ transition from Egyptian-raised to Israel’s front-man in the Exodus. And this is just one itsy-bitsy detail from the Old Testament. By taking these seemingly disconnected events and connecting them into the bigger picture of Scripture, Waltke has given us a very helpful guide to understanding the Old Testament. And his insights into the Ten Commandments are worth the price of the volume (see pp. 415-433). In the end, Waltke’s clear articulation of the Old Testament informs the church of her past and thereby informs her present identity. This is a volume you will want to read slowly and digest fully, perhaps within a group of fellow Christians. It will open up the theology and storyline of the Old Testament like no other book I’ve seen. Read more about this volume in our full review. $29.69

3. Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (UK:IVP/US:Crossway). Written by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, this book has proven to be a huge success in both the UK and the US in defending the core of the atonement of Jesus Christ. If you want to understand the Cross at a deeper level (don’t we all) you will cherish this volume. It will go on my shelf along with some of the giants on this topic (like Stott). But what makes this volume especially important is the central role it represents in bringing together a worldwide brotherhood of Christians who believe and cherish the penal substitutionary atonement of the Cross. What Together for the Gospel and the Gospel Coalition conferences have done to unify American churches and ministries around these precious truths, Pierced for Our Transgressions has accomplished on an international scale. $16.50

4. The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones (Zondervan). Finding children’s books that introduce little ones to the major stories of the Bible while simultaneously pointing their souls to the Cross is a rarity. This is perhaps the best children’s storybook Bible on the market, and a must-have for any parent of young children. Incredible illustrations, too. $11.65

5. When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage by Dave Harvey (Shepherd Press). Harvey has blessed couples with an excellent book for connecting the Cross to the daily trials and triumphs of marriage. Don’t attempt marriage without the Gospel. Bring Harvey along to explain why. $11.16

6. Communion with the Triune God by John Owen (Crossway). The classic book written by English Puritan John Owen resurfaced in 2007, in a new edition edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor. It’s unlikely I can overstate the importance of Taylor and Kapic’s editorial work in introducing Owen to the new generation of young, reformed Christians. An excellent follow-up to last year’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Crossway). $14.96

7. Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart by John Ensor (Crossway). Ensor provides an excellent introduction to biblical manhood and femininity that will help engaged or married couples understand their God-ordained roles. This book is perhaps the best introductory volume on these often controversial topics. $9.59

8. The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen Nichols (Crossway). With brevity, pictures, call-out boxes and humor, Stephen Nichols walks through the highlights of the Reformation to help us see that “the Reformers saw nothing less than the gospel at stake” (p. 21). It’s cliché, but true: I couldn’t put this volume down. Nichols is always good, but especially here. $10.39

9. The Reading and Preaching of the Scripture in the Worship of the Christian Church: The Modern Age by Hughes Oliphant Old (Eerdmans). This is volume six of Old’s large series tracing out the history of preaching from the Biblical era (vol. 1; 1998), the Patristic age (vol. 2; 1998), the Medieval church (vol. 3; 1999), the Reformation period (vol. 4; 2002), during Moderatism, Pietism and Awakening (vol. 5; 2004) and now the most recent volume covering the modern age of 1789-1989. Volume six alone is about 1,000 pages and covers preachers like Broadus, Kuyper, Maclaren, Moody, Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones. Very insightful work on the history of preaching that has replaced Dargan on my shelves. $36.50

10. Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Religious Affections’ by Samuel Storms (Crossway). Edwards’ work is classic, and Storms helps the contemporary reader glean its gold. Excellent commentary on one of Edwards’ most valuable works. $10.87

11. Church History: A Crash Course for the Curious by Christopher Catherwood (Crossway). Catherwood sets out the history of the Church from a global perspective, and at all times relays the implications of history to contemporary events. This “crash course” is another volume published this year for a popular audience that will help readers grown in appreciation for developments in the church’s history. $12.99

12. The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright by John Piper (Crossway). Piper excels with a clarification on justification in light of the contemporary debate. $12.23

13. Assured by God: Living in the Fullness of God’s Grace by Philip Graham Ryken, Al Mohler, Joel Beeke, Sinclair Ferguson, John MacArthur, Jerry Bridges and R.C. Sproul (P&R). This collaborative effort is a very helpful collection of essays on the topic of the reformed doctrine of assurance. How do we know that we know God? (see Tullian Tchividjian’s work later.) $12.24

14. Sweet Communion: Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation (Baker Academic). Written originally in Dutch by Arie de Reuver, this academic work was made available in English in 2007. It traces the influences of Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471) upon the “Dutch Puritans” like Willem Teellinck, Herman Witsius and Thodorus and Wilhelmus à Brakel. The seven biographies that fill this volume are excellent. This volumes helps us develop a “reformed spirituality,” a seeking after God’s presence illuminated by genuine theology. $21.89

15. The Inner Sanctum of Puritan Piety: John Flavel’s Doctrine of Mystical Union with Christ (Reformation Heritage Books). Flavel is one of the most valuable Puritans, and this study by Stephen J. Yuille looks at one facet of his theology. The doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ lies at the heart of the Puritan pursuit of godliness, and this small but wonderful outline traces the doctrine generally and highlights Flavel’s rich teaching specifically. $12.00

16. Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election (Crossway) by Sam Storms. Originally published in 1987 by Baker under the title, Chosen for Life: An introductory guide to the doctrine of divine election, Storms’ work was republished in 2007 and remains one of the clearest defenses for reformed soteriology. $12.23

17. Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges (NavPress). Hitting from all sides, Bridges confronts all those sins we would rather not talk about, and provides a very Cross-centered approach to killing the flesh. $12.91

18. B.B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought edited by Gary L.W. Johnson (P&R). Part biography, part theology, this new book on Warfield provides a treasure of essays on the thought and life of the outstanding theologian. $15.59

19. A Sweet Flame: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards by Michael A.G. Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books). A short but excellent collection of Edwards’ most important and moving personal letters, this little volume makes a great gift. $7.50

20. By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification edited by Gary L.W. Johnson and Guy P. Waters (Crossway). Including chapters by David Wells, Cornelius Venema and Al Mohler, this work tackles contemporary attacks upon the gospel (and especially those of N.T. Wright). $12.23

21. Communion with God: The Divine and the Human in the Theology of John Owen by Kelly Kapic (Baker Academic). The long-awaited printing of Kapic’s research did not disappoint. On these same lines, Kapic also wrote the introduction to Communion with God (see #6). $18.47

22. The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven J. Lawson (Reformation Trust). This short work traces out 32 distinctives from the expositional ministry of the great Reformer, and sets them out as patterns for contemporary preachers. A short and encouraging work for pastors.

23. Do I Know God? Finding Certainty in Life’s Most Important Relationship by Tullian Tchividjian (Random House). An understanding of assurance written from a very personal and compelling vantage point. Excellent in content, but I especially appreciate the format that other writers can follow in communicating biblical doctrine to a new generation of readers. $11.55

24. Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook by Mark D. Futato (Kregel). Excellent little handbook in helping expositors pull all the meat from the Psalms for their their sermon preparations. Not just exegetical, but also helpful in determining the overall theology of the Psalms. $14.27

25. Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for us in Justification (Christian Focus). Edited by K. Scott Oliphant this compilation includes an intro by Sinclair Ferguson and chapters by men like Carl Trueman, William Edgar and Peter Lillback on the importance of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone. Looks at traditional problems with Roman Catholic theology and contemporary concerns with N.T. Wright on union and imputation. $12.99

26. The Majesty of God in the Old Testament: A Guide for Preaching and Teaching (Baker Academic). Renowned Old Testament scholar Walter C. Kaiser Jr. says we should preach more of the Old Testament and in his newest book he takes the preacher by the hand and shows them exactly how. Walking through 10 texts, Kaiser models exegesis and outlining of each specific texts. But in it’s easy-to-read format and concluding application questions in each chapter, this book will double as a group study of God in the Old Testament. $11.55

27. Preaching the Cross: Together for the Gospel (Crossway). The transcripts from the 2006 Together for the Gospel conference written and delivered by Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, John MacArthur, John Piper and R.C. Sproul. An all-star lineup and one of the best compilation on the topic of preaching the gospel. $13.59

28. Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics (P&R). Edited by K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton. Yet another excellent collection of essays from P&R that captured my attention and helped me work through various difficulties in apologetics. $18.24

29. The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors by Thabiti Anyabwile (Crossway). Highlights Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833), Daniel A. Payne (1811-1893) and Francis J. Grimké (1850-1937). The book contains one short biography of each man, but is largely comprised of sermon transcripts. Anyabwile’s book is especially important because he is challenging the contemporary African-American churches to consider the gospel of first importance and is thereby calling for large-scale reform. $10.87

30. Reformation Heroes: A Simple, Illustrated Overview of People Who Assisted in the Great Work of the Reformation by Joel R. Beeke and Diana Kleyn (Reformation Heritage). The men, women and events of the Reformation written for older children and teens to boost their appreciation for the church. $18.00

And here are some other titles that are likely worthy of the above list, and I wish I made time to read:

So these are my favorite books of 2007. I hope this list serves you in your book-purchasing for the glory of Christ!

Blessings to you all and Merry Christmas from your friends at TSS,


An Old Testament Theology by Bruce K. Waltke

tsslogo.jpgAlthough I rarely purchase books at conferences, I spend a lot of time in conference bookstores. Part of this is purely because I’ve got some strains of N-E-R-D in my DNA. But I also linger around conference bookstores to watch and listen to what titles excite pastors. Which books get the most play? Which books sell out? Which books go untouched?

Focusing a bit of attention on a conference bookstore can prove revealing.

At Together for the Gospel ’06 in Louisville I noted Mark Dever’s two volumes of sermons throughout the entire Bible were recently released and both were on sale. One volume contained the sermons through the New Testament [The Message of the New Testament (Crossway: 2006)] and the other volume contained his sermons through the Old Testament [The Message of the Old Testament (Crossway: 2006)]. They were about the same size, price, format, and design — presented at the conference in equally tall stacks, sitting side-by-side. But despite these similarities, I noticed the Old Testament volume was selling much quicker than the New Testament. In fact, I had planned to make a rare conference purchase, only to be surprised the Old Testament volumes were soon gone! A pile of New Testament volumes remained on much later in the conference.

Both volumes were well received (as they should have). Mark Dever’s gift of overview sermons is obvious and a great blessing to the Church. But also obvious was a pronounced interest in young, Reformed pastors to understand the theology and storyline of the Old Testament.

I think it’s fair to say that for many pastors, the theology and storyline of the Old Testament is veiled in the shadows. Sure, we understand the first Adam and the second Adam, the first David and the second David, and the contours of the Abrahamic covenant. But do we truly understand how all those (sometimes very odd) Old Testament details fit together?

I’ll be the first to say, No. My understanding of the Old Testament narratives and theology is woefully inadequate.

One new book has set out to help — An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Zondervan: 2007) by Bruce Waltke. At 1,040 pages and 67-ounces, it’s not the biggest volume published this year (the Banner of Truth just unleashed a 100-ounce volume!), but it’s one of the most useful. I would argue this is one of the top-five most important books published in 2007.

Among reformed Old Testament scholars, Waltke is among the best. Just a glance through his biography at the Reformed Theological Seminary website and it becomes apparent his career has been fruitful. This new work is billed as the culmination of his lifelong work.

An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach provides a detailed walk through the Old Testament narratives and theology. Waltke provides exceptional outlines to help the reader follow the flow of events and view the theological value at each step.

I would suggest the best way to familiarize yourself with the content is to browse the book at the Zondervan website here.

Identity Crisis?

With my theological background I lean towards premillenial dispensationalism. Waltke, however, is no dispensationalist, and thinks “classical dispensationalism” – by dividing God’s relationship between Israel, Gentiles, and the Church – has been partly to blame in the contemporary ignorance of the Old Testament (pp. 42-43). I think that’s a fair critique. But Waltke has also learned from dispensational theology and carefully appreciates the continuity and discontinuity with the Old Testament (p. 21). His presentation is sensitive to schools of differing theology.

But even a dispensationalist can appreciate Waltke’s emphasis on the Old Testament and its value in helping us to understand our identity as God’s children.

Our church culture is in a bit of an identity crisis. How do we relate to culture? Where do we fit? What identifies us as the Church? Add this to the Emergent emphasis on embarking on a journey — and that journey being presented as an end in itself — and I think it’s possible for some to say the Church is struggling with an identity crisis.

For the purpose of forming our identity as God’s children, Waltke is especially helpful. Take this one excerpt:

“The Old Testament contains much that seems trivial to the modern Christian. That is because we fail to understand the functions of these texts. Aside from teaching us about God, sin, and the need for redemption, a significant portion of the Old Testament recounts the history of the people of God. These are the narratives that constitute the memories of the Christian community. These memories inform our identity as Christians. Thus, Abraham is our spiritual father. His story becomes part of our past. The exodus, the monarchy of Israel and Judah, and the exile cease to be ancient tales of a distant people, but the triumphs and tragedies of our own history. Moreover, its ceremonial laws, such as abstaining from ‘unclean’ foods are ‘visual aids’ to instruct God’s people of all ages to be pure. …

… the stories of the Old Testament communicate at a level beyond cognitive propositions. They challenge us to identify with Abraham as our father, to share his faith that rejoices to see the day of Jesus Christ, and to look forward to a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God. They engender a transformed self-perception and an altered worldview. This is one of the most powerful functions of the Old Testament; unfortunately, it is also one of the least understood among the community of faith. In sum, a goal of this theology is to help the covenant community understand their identity as the people of God within the context of the memories and hopes proclaimed in the Old Testament. In short, biblical theology ‘is that learning by which a human being is made whole’” (p. 14).

And earlier, Waltke wrote:

“In the Bible we sail on the clouds to heaven, submarine down to the depths of our hearts, and are transported back to ancient kingdoms that serve as paradigms for interpreting the present. The Bible explores and answers with authority the most fundamental issues facing human beings: Who are we? What is the world and our place in it? How can we find happiness in this conflicted world? How do we deal with choices that confront us, and what happens as a result? This is the stuff of great literature, and the Bible is the greatest expression of it. This book is a profession of faith – a reasoning faith, I hope, and reasonable: what Saint Anselm called ‘faith out on a quest to know’” (p. 10).

This emphasis on helping the Church find Her identity – on a journey to understand – is perhaps the great strength of Waltke’s new work. This will happen as An Old Testament Theology equips expositors to grow more comfortable in the Old Testament narratives and encourages them to work through large sections of the Old Testament. Unashamedly, it’s an Old Testament theology for the Church.

“Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to claim that the Bible is the fount of life, the source of identity, and the supreme arbiter of ethics. Therefore, it makes sense that a book written about the theology of the Old Testament should be written for the church. After all, this people has more at stake in understanding the Bible’s message than anybody else – they are the ones committed to live out fully the implications of that message to the point of dying for its truth” (p. 19).


On my shelf An Old Testament Theology will sit next to The Message of the Old Testament by Mark Dever (Crossway: 2006) and Old Testament Theology by Paul House (IVP: 1998). All three are good but I think Waltke will best serve expositors and theologians as they help the Church define Her identity.

J.I. Packer calls this volume “pure gold.” I would certainly agree that Waltke’s new book is excellent. And if I’m reading you correctly, Waltke is one volume that many pastors and Christian readers will find timely and necessary.

Title: An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach
Author: Bruce K. Waltke
Reading level: 3.0/5.0 > moderately difficult
Boards: hardcover
Pages: 1,040
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue (not sewn)
Paper: white and clean
Topical index: yes (extensive)
Scriptural index: yes (extensive)
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Zondervan
Year: 2007
Price USD: $29.24 from Westminster; $29.95 from MB
ISBNs: 0310218977, 9780310218975