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Timothy Keller’s Romans 1-7 For You

February 9, 2014

Timothy Keller introduces his Romans 1-7 For You:

The books in the For You series are accessible guides, useful for individual reading or for preparing to teach a group or lead a Bible study on a book of the Bible. The book’s product page puts it like this:

Written for people of every age and stage, from enquirers to new believers to pastors and teachers, this flexible resource is for you to:

• READ: As a guide to this wonderful letter, helping you appreciate the great gift of righteousness with God.
• FEED: As a daily devotional to help you grow in Christ as you read and meditate on this portion of God’s word.
• LEAD: As notes to aid you in explaining, illustrating and applying Romans 1–7 as you preach or lead a Bible study.

Whoever you are, and however you use it, this is… Romans 1-7 For You

I used Keller’s Galatians For You when preaching through Galatians this summer, and found it a helpful guide. Like the Galatians volume, Romans 1-7 generally succeeds in its aim to help readers “read, feed, and lead.” Keller presents his exposition of Romans in an accessible way. He says, “Romans is, at its heart, a letter about the gospel.”

From the first chapter the passage-by-passage comments bring the reader into the world of the text. Paul’s self-identification as “a servant of Christ Jesus” in Romans 1:1 means:

He has direct authority from Christ to teach. What he writes is Scripture. What follows is true.

Like many commentators before him, Keller takes Romans 1:16-17 to be “Paul’s nutshell summary of the gospel–his central thesis statement out of which flows the rest of the letter.” Throughout the rest of the book Keller refers to Paul’s gospel and shows how the rest of chapters 1-7 connect to the thesis statement. Keller not only shows a good sense of how the book fits together, but he also brings in other passages for a fairly robust biblical theology. This has helped me to see how Romans fits in with the rest of Scripture.

Romans 1-7 For You_KellerKeller’s writing is simple and engaging. There are some memorable lines, like this one, referring to the Old and New Testaments: “Every page that God wrote before outlines what he has now declared in full color.”

Each section concludes with “Questions for reflection,” which work well on an individual level and could also be employed in a group setting.

The devotional application is strong here, too. Readers rarely will have to wonder how a given text relates to them, and how it is calling them to live in light of it. This was perhaps what I most appreciated about the guide.

In so doing, however, the book does at times seem to go beyond what Paul himself is writing. For example, it wasn’t clear to me how Keller could conclude from Romans 1:16-17: “The gospel message is actually the power of God in verbal, cognitive form.” Though Keller is right, I think, that Paul says the gospel itself is power, I can’t find support in the text for its being explicitly verbal or “cognitive.” There were other times I felt Keller’s efforts at application or biblical theology went farther afield than Paul might have intended.

Though the series assumes no knowledge of biblical languages, there are a few Greek transliterated words and definitions. Unfortunately, three of those words are misspelled, which would make it difficult for someone who didn’t otherwise know Greek to look them up. There are a few other typos in the book, too–nothing egregious, but distracting, nonetheless.

There is a simple glossary at the back, as well as appendices. The appendices are three:

  • A detailed 11-page “Summary of Romans 1-7”
  • “Identifying the Idols of the Heart”
  • A few pages of Keller’s assessment of the “new perspective” on Paul

I’ve written more about Romans, and interacted with a number of Romans commentaries here.

The book’s accessibility, Keller’s obvious love for Jesus, and his emphasis on personal application all commend it, though I’d also suggest using it in tandem with something else (Moo and Stott come to mind, both listed in Keller’s bibliography) for the sake of balance and thoroughness.

Thanks to Cross-Focused Reviews and The Good Book Company for the review copy. You can find Romans 1-7 on Amazon here.

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