A Peaceable Psychology: Christian Therapy in a World of Many Cultures

Peaceable PsychologyThis summer I’ve been taking a course on multicultural counseling. Here I offer some interaction with and reflection on A Peaceable Psychology, pictured at left.

Key Points of Learning: Agreements and Concerns

Before reading A Peaceable Psychology, I hadn’t really thought about counseling and therapy as “political” acts. And yet Alvin Dueck and Kevin Reimer warn well against the illusion that the therapist can somehow counsel apolitically, aculturally, amorally, and areligiously. One of the key, unifying ideas of the book is: “Civility includes learning and validating the language of the ethno-religious client. It is polite to defer to the meaning framework of a client.”

I found this to be a helpful way of framing the quest for diversity competence among therapists and pastors. Dueck and Reimer do go even farther than saying this kind of psychotherapy is polite; they suggest that to counsel in this way is to be like Jesus, especially when therapist and client can inhabit the same place of suffering together.

Although Dueck and Reimer have a healthy (and hearty!) reluctance toward philosophical foundationalism as such, they see the work and life and love of Jesus as foundational to a peaceable psychology. This is especially evident in their view of the importance of the atonement.

I found myself in agreement with Dueck and Reimer when they wrote:

The reconciling atonement of Christ is not spiritual alone but contains physical, psychological, and social dimensions of human brokenness. The suffering God is a beckoning God, who in Christ offers the potential of a new beginning. Consequently, a peaceable psychology is an incarnational event whereupon the invisible spiritual reality of God’s grace is attached to and bound up in the visible life of both the victim and the offender.

They go on, “Atonement is God’s welcoming of the enemy, of the other. It is an invitation to new life, to freedom from sin. This is the basis of a peaceable psychology.”

When considering various theological theories of the atonement, I find myself convinced by an all-of-the-above approach. (How could we limit the efficacy of the atonement by proffering just one theory as to what it was and how it happened?) The work and suffering of Jesus, they suggest, is to transform the therapist-client relationship. “If Juanita were our client,” they ask, “would her suffering fully impact us?”

This, however, also was a potential point of disagreement I had with the authors. Or at least I had questions and wanted to add qualifications. To be sure, the idea of the “kenotic therapist” makes sense to me—especially as a pastor. But the following expression of kenotic therapy was too much, at least for me: “Indeed, I am held hostage by my clients’ suffering. Their face places an ethical claim on me because as a fellow human I am systemically responsible for their suffering.”

While I can agree about “an ethical claim,” I’m not sure being “held hostage” is the most useful metaphor. How many clients will—or can—a therapist allow to hold him hostage before he feels imprisoned in an unhealthy and stultifying way? I wish the authors had spoken more to the point with some practical suggestions and caveats.

Implications for Pastoral Care

Dueck and Reimer say, “We fear that the American psychologist who assumes a level playing field for the linguistic comprehension of ‘self’ has already begun a subtle process of imposition upon the client.”

This is a valuable reminder to me as a minister. I simply cannot make assumptions about the cultural backgrounds of congregants. Further, there is value in this approach (of not assuming “a level playing field for the linguistic comprehension of ‘self’”) that has already—just this last week—had practical import and payoff in my biblical hermeneutics for preaching.

Yesterday I preached on Psalm 23. Due in large part to the idea Dueck and Reimer articulate above, namely, that constructions of self are culturally conditioned and informed, I was able to observe the following about Psalm 23.

David uses the first person singular pronoun throughout the Psalm. God is the shepherd of each individual who would follow him.

This may seem slightly unremarkable to us. We live in a North American society that already tends toward individualism. Our cultural construction of the self tends to be individually-focused.

The culture in which David found himself was much more communally-oriented. …A person’s sense of self was constructed and informed and shaped in a communal context.

So it’s at least a little remarkable, in the larger context of Hebrew worshiping society, that David begins–the Lord is MY shepherd.

This really drove home the point in another article we read in class: “Since hermeneutical understanding is always intercultural and contextual, cultural self-awareness is a prerequisite to responsibly interpreting Scripture and spiritual experience” (Sandage, Jensen, and Jass).

I also do and will find it useful for my own pastoring to consider that “a peaceable therapist recognizes that healing is best conducted ethnically, in the client’s mother tongue and in his or her local culture.”

Of course no therapist can be already conversant in the mother tongue of every cultural or religious tradition. But Dueck and Reimer realize that, and are suggesting more of an “ad hoc” approach anyway: “A peaceable therapist is a linguist; he or she recognizes differences between languages and honors them by learning them.”

May God help us–therapists and ministers alike–so to do!

Find A Peaceable Pscyhology at Amazon here. Baker/Brazos has its product page here, with an excerpt (including Table of Contents) here. No review copy–I bought this one!

“The Biblical Picture is Not of What Someone Receives from the Church….”

Bock BECNT Acts

Here are some words of wisdom from Darrell L. Bock, writing about Acts 2:42-47, on which I’ll be preaching tomorrow:

The biblical picture is not of what someone receives from the church, although one does receive a great deal, but of what one gives and how one contributes to it. The portrait of the early church in Acts shows that community and the welfare of the group were a priority. …[T]he believers’ preaching was matched by their community, making a powerful testimony for their mission. When the early church said that God cared, the care they gave their own demonstrated this.

What are the Best New Testament Commentaries?

NT Commentary Survey

D.A. Carson’s 2013 update to his New Testament Commentary Survey puts the book into its seventh edition. Having come six years since the last edition, the new edition is substantially revised and updated to include just about every significant commentary on every book of the New Testament. The Survey rarely misses a volume.

Carson goes book-by-book through the New Testament and suggests what he thinks are the best-written commentaries and why. He also offers introductory notes and principles for selecting commentaries and series, as well as 14 pages on New Testament introductions and theologies to consider. The number of books that Carson surveys is impressive.

I found Carson’s survey to be much more detailed and up-to-date than its Old Testament counterpart. He makes mention, for example, of the brand new Teach the Text commentary series. And he seems to have already examined the relevant ZECNT volumes that had been released before this survey went to press. So anyone using this book can be assured that not much ground is left uncovered.

Of course, it’s impossible in 175 pages or so to get detailed analysis of each commentary. For the most part, Carson is able, in just a couple of sentences, to give the reader a really good idea of what each commentary does well, and whether or not to consider adding it to one’s library. One always knows what top two or three commentaries Carson would suggest on a given book of the New Testament (and why).

There are times where Carson’s evaluations are left unexplained, or when he fails to evaluate a commentary in accordance with its own purposes. For instance, he criticizes a New Testament introduction on “Intertextual Development of the NT Writings” for focusing “so narrowly on intertextual connections that other axes are unhelpfully ignored.” Or a socio-rhetorical commentary on Matthew is faulted for not including enough “penetrating comment on structure, grammar, and sometimes theology.” The discerning reader can overlook this and not be deterred by it.

Carson’s writing style is engaging, enjoyable, and downright funny at times. Of his own commentary on John, he writes, “Carson’s work is rather more difficult for me to assess.” He pulls no punches in his critiques. A reviewer could multiply examples, but here are just a few quotations:

  • “…despite the superfluity of cutesy remarks that are in constant danger of distorting the picture of who Jesus is…”
  • “…his grasp of Greek is mechanical, amateurish, and without respect for the fluidity of the Greek in the Hellenistic period.”
  • “…the result is a disappointing monument to misplaced energy.”
  • “…his reconstruction of the church situation is so quirky that it cannot be recommended except to readers who are devoted to quirkiness.”

I was surprised that a short guide like this would contain such strongly expressed opinions, but the more I read on, the more useful I found them to be–even as I realized that some of Carson’s assessments are subjective and need to be weighed. (He too blithely, in my opinion, dismisses reader-response criticism.) He is an excellent writer and somehow manages throughout the book to avoid many reviewers’ clichés, which is no small accomplishment when covering this many commentaries!

Carson is (refreshingly) not at all reluctant to call out unacknowledged borrowing, which occurs in commentaries more often than one would hope.

Carson’s goal is:

to provide theological students and ministers with a handy survey of the resources, especially commentaries, that are available in English to facilitate understanding of the NT.

In this Carson has succeeded, even in entertaining fashion. If the reader is willing to overlook the few critiques mentioned above (as I largely have been), she or he will find this a good desk-side companion to help wade through the world of myriad commentaries.

Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy of NT Commentary Survey. You can find it here (Baker Academic) and here (Amazon/affiliate link).

What are the best Old Testament commentaries to get?

OT Commentary Survey

This is a meta-review of sorts: a review of a book that briefly reviews commentaries for each book of the Old Testament. I.e., here are some words on some words on some words on the Word.

Here is the publisher’s book description:

Leading Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman III provides students and pastors with expert guidance on choosing a commentary for any book of the Old Testament. The fifth edition has been updated to assess the most recently published commentaries, providing evaluative comments. Longman lists a number of works available for each book of the Old Testament, gives a brief indication of their emphases and viewpoints, and evaluates them. The result is a balanced, sensible guide for those who preach and teach the Old Testament and need help in choosing the best tools.

It’s a recurring question: What are the best Old Testament commentaries to get? To help answer that question, Longman rates an impressive host of commentaries on a 1-to-5 star scale:

One or two stars indicate that the commentary is inferior or deficient, and I discourage its purchase. Four or five stars is a high mark. Three, obviously, means a commentary is good but not great. I also use half stars in order to refine the system of evaluation.

One nice touch in this book is that all of the five-star commentaries are separately listed in an appendix in the back. Students or pastors looking to build a library might start there. Before turning to commentaries on individual books of the Bible, Longman briefly reviews one-volume commentaries (though this one is absent) and “commentary sets and series.” In addition to the stars, Longman notes whether a book is better suited for a layperson (L), minister/seminary student (M), or scholar (S), or some combination of those three.

To have a rating system is good, but there are some odd ways in which it is applied. One unlucky book got “no stars” on what the 1-to-5 star scale. And the comments (a paragraph’s length) under each commentary don’t always seem to match the rating. For example, a commentary on 1 Chronicles that has “a very helpful discussion of all aspects of the book” and other positive evaluation from Longman receives only 2.5 stars. A Genesis commentary whose author “shows great exegetical skill and theological insight” then receives 1.5 stars. As does another whose author “is insightful and knowledgeable.” One series receives four stars as a whole, but one of the individual commentaries that is “definitely one of the best volumes in the series thus far” receives just three.

There are also some things that were missed in updating the 2007 fourth edition to this 2013 fifth edition. The Berit Olam series was “just under way” in the fourth edition, and is so here, too. The New American Commentary series in both 2007 and 2013 editions is “relatively new,” even though it has a number of volumes published in the early 1990s. In the Proverbs section, Fox’s Anchor commentary still only consists of volume 1 (“Hopefully, we will not have to wait too long for the rest of the commentary to appear”), even though volume 2 was published in 2009. And there is also no mention of the Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Text series, which had five volumes published by the time of this new edition of Longman’s work. Also, especially with the proliferation of commentaries now available through Bible software, an appendix covering electronic books would have been nice.

As far as his written evaluation of the commentaries, Longman is especially favorable toward Old Testament commentaries that discuss how a given passage is used in the New Testament. It’s not clear to me that–even for a Christian–this would be a requirement for a good Old Testament commentary, but I see his point, and am disposed to at least somewhat agree. He writes:

I continue to hope that future commentaries produced for use by Christian pastors in the church would include more reflection on how the Old Testament message is appropriated by the New Testament.

But, in my opinion, this criterion is perhaps over-applied, resulting in ratings penalties for what are otherwise strong commentaries, including ones that may have never set out in the first place to discuss the NT use of the OT.

One final critique: though there are not many commentaries on the Septuagint text of the Old Testament, a few series have begun. I can’t totally fault Longman for not having any Septuagint commentaries here, but I had hoped that the few that have been published might have been noted. I think also of John William Wevers’s Notes on the Greek Text series, which covers the Pentateuch.

Longman’s aim is for “this commentary survey [to] help students of the Bible choose the commentaries that are right for them,” and in that he is mostly successful. For example, he lets the reader know which commentaries date a given prophet according to “critical” or “evangelical” interpretations (I’m oversimplifying a bit here). He has helpful comments like, “If you get only one commentary on Joel, this should be it.” I finished this book feeling like I had a general lay of the land of Old Testament commentaries.

Despite a sometimes quirky or inconsistent rating system, and despite what appears to be a not really thoroughly updated volume, Old Testament Commentary Survey is unique, and one I already consult and will continue to consult whenever considering commentaries on a given Old Testament book. I just know I’ll have to supplement it with my own research and with seeking recommendations from others. The book works especially well as an introductory checklist that one can use as she or he is building a library of commentaries.

A sample pdf of the book, including introductory material and Longman’s take on one-volume commentaries and various commentary sets, can be found here.

Many thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy of OT Commentary Survey. You can find it here (Baker Academic) and here (Amazon).

Teach the Text: Luke by R.T. France

R.T. France
R.T. France

I’ve always had a hard time answering who my “favorite author” was (how could I pick just one?), but when it comes to people who have written about the Bible, R.T. France is definitely in the top three. I found myself moved to tears several times when reading through his highly technical (read: supposed to be dry) commentary on Mark.

So I was thrilled when I learned that Baker’s Teach the Text Commentary Series (TTT) had R.T. France as the author of its Luke volume. France died in February 2012, so to have this posthumous work of his is a real treat–especially since he already has a major commentary on Matthew and one on Mark. This rounds out France’s writing on the Synoptic Gospels.

So far the TTT series is a strong entry into the already highly populated world of commentaries. I reviewed the Romans volume here. Baker has a fantastic series Website here with plenty of information, videos, and samples from the series.

How France Teaches Luke

France divides the 24 chapters of Luke into 65 text units (or passages), each of which receives six pages of commentary. It breaks down in this way: 

“Big Idea” at the beginning of each commentary passage.This is a short Tweet-length summary of the passage. For example, the Big Idea for Luke 1:57-80 (“The Birth of John”) is: “Both the extraordinary circumstances of his birth and his father’s inspired utterance testify to John’s pivotal role in the plan of salvation.”

A “Key Themes” sidebar. This is a set of bullet points that gives the highlights of each passage.

“Understanding the Text.” Here France offers:

  • The Text in Context (one of his real gifts is a sense of always knowing the larger literary context, and reminding the reader of it)
  • Outline/Structure
  • Historical and Cultural Background
  • Verse-by-verse Interpretive Insights
  • Theological Insights

France is especially adept in the Theological Insights section. He is reliable, creative, and faithful to the text. His experience as both scholar and pastor seems to have helped here.

“Teaching the Text.” France offers specific suggestions for how the preacher might approach the sermon on each text.

“Illustrating the Text.” Whether it’s a personal story, someone else’s anecdote, history, literature, film, or art, France gives ideas for how the preacher or teacher can illustrate the message.

France’s introduction to Luke is a mere seven pages (which includes commentary on Luke 1:1-4), but his awareness of literary and biblical context throughout the book offers what one might otherwise miss by way of introductory matters.

How France Treats a Passage (Luke 17:1-19)

Luke by FranceTo explore a sample passage more in depth, France combines Luke 17:1-19 into one passage, on which he spends the requisite six pages. The decision to treat Luke 17:1-19 as a single passage limits how much he can offer, and occasionally the reader will experience the results of such space limitations in TTT. (This is part of the purpose of the series, though, and is perhaps just indicative of my desire for more France.) Luke 17:1-10 (itself consisting of “four separate units of teaching”) and 17:11-19 probably ought to be treated as two separate passages–the Revised Common Lectionary, among other places, does.

His “Big Idea” in this section (“True discipleship cannot be undertaken causally; the service of God demands all that we can bring to it”) is more relevant to vv. 1-10 than it is to vv. 11-19.  (By contrast, this similarly-targeted Luke commentary has, “Faith recognizes Jesus as the source of healing and expresses itself in gratitude and praise to him,” for vv. 11-19.)

Even so, France has this good insight to offer on verse 19:

This formula [‘your faith has made you well’] is often a ‘performative utterance,’ but not here, since the cure of the ten has already taken place, all of them presumably through similar ‘faith.’ But this man’s overt praise of God is evidence of a spiritual health that Jews would not expect to find in a Samaritan.

And his “Teaching the Text” portion does suggest ways to preach from vv. 1-10 and vv. 11-19 as separate passages. On the latter he writes:

France on Luke 17_1France on Luke 17_2

In “Illustrating the Text” France moves between a 1962 film (Days of Wine and Roses, about leading another into alcoholism), a personal anecdote on forgiveness by Cardinal Bernardin, and a quotation by author Lewis B. Smedes on gratitude and happiness.

As with the Romans Teach the Text volume, the illustrations throughout help the reader better envision what’s going on in the biblical text. Here’s a portion from the passage that describes Zacchaeus’s encounter with Jesus:

Zacchaeus's Sycamore Tree
Zacchaeus’s Sycamore Tree

An added bonus is the high quality of the book materials. The hardcover looks pretty indestructible, the binding is sewn, and the pages are thick and glossy (but not too glossy to accept notes from a writing utensil). The full-color pages throughout are a nice touch, too. Translation: this commentary will make it through multiple series and preaching cycles on Luke. I’ve even been able to use it recently as I preach through Matthew, consulting the parallel passages here.

There are already five TTT volumes available, with more on the way. If the quality of this series continue to match that of France and Pate (Romans), I’ll want to keep consulting this series, and other preachers and teachers will want to, as well.

Thanks to Baker Publishing for the review copy of Luke. Its Baker product page is here, and it is for sale at Amazon here.

Highlights in Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT (Stein, Jobes, Köstenberger)


I’ve long benefitted from the 15-volume Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT) series. Recently I’ve been able to use it in Logos Bible Software. In this post I introduced the commentary, layout, and setup in Logos on a computer. Then I wrote again here about navigating BECNT for Logos on iPad. Finally, I interacted at length with a passage in Luke from Darrell L. Bock. That third post is here. This post is a fourth part of my BECNT series of posts, concluding my review. Here I highlight some other volumes in the series: Mark (Robert H. Stein), 1 Peter (Karen H. Jobes), and John (Andreas J. Köstenberger). Continue reading “Highlights in Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT (Stein, Jobes, Köstenberger)”

Of Millstones and Mustard Seeds: Bock on Luke 17

"Magisterial" is perhaps not an exaggeration
“Magisterial” is perhaps not an exaggeration

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”

–Luke 17:5-6 (NIV 2011)

This Sunday I’ll preach on the above verses, taken from the lectionary reading of Luke 17:5-10. The rest of the passage goes on:

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

My first three questions of the text were as follows:

  1. How should I take Jesus’ statement about the mulberry tree? Should I really be trying to uproot trees (or move mountains, in a synoptic parallel)? Can I?
  2. What do verses 7-10 have to do with 5-6?
  3. What about Jesus as a servant? Is he here the one being served, and we are just dutiful servants, with no expectation of thanks or “well done” from God?  Continue reading “Of Millstones and Mustard Seeds: Bock on Luke 17”

Teach the Text Commentary Series: Romans, reviewed

First things first: Do we really need another commentary series? This video from Baker Publishing offers an (affirmative) answer, as it introduces the new Teach the Text Commentary Series:

I agree. As I’ve worked through the Romans volume in the Teach the Text (TTT) series, by C. Marvin Pate, I’ve appreciated the way it balances “the best of biblical scholarship” with the actual end product of the sermon in view. TTT has a fantastic accompanying Website.

TTTBaker has summarized the layout of the commentary well here. Each text unit (or passage) is “six pages of focused commentary,” consisting of the following:

“Big Idea” at the head of each passage. This is not to be confused with “big idea” preaching, as this commentary’s “big idea” tends to stay within the world and era of the biblical text.

A “Key Themes” sidebar. This expands a bit on the “big idea” in bullet-point format to draw out key points from a given passage.

“Understanding the Text.” This is the meat of the commentary, and covers literary context, outline and structure, historical background, theology, and interpretation.

“Teaching the Text.” Here Pate offers guidance in how one could preach and/or teach the text, with an eye specifically to application. Pate suggests what sermons/sermon topics come to mind for him in a given passage. More technical or scholarly commentaries tend not to include this step.

“Illustrating the Text.” This feels like the added bonus section. Having a topic in mind is just a first step. Culling from history, literature, art, the social sciences, and more, Pate gives ideas for how the preacher or teacher could help make the sermon or lesson come alive via illustration.

The full-color photographs throughout the text are of high quality, and help connect the reader visually to the ancient world.

From the commentary: Corinth, where Paul wrote Romans
From the commentary: Corinth, where Paul wrote Romans

There are also “Additional Insights” throughout the commentary, that more fully develop themes like “The Backgrounds of Christian Baptism,” “Faith and Law in Paul,” and others.

Pate’s 15-page introduction to Romans covers Paul’s world(s), letters, theology, composition, Romans in history, date and place of writing, recipients, theme, purpose, and genre. He writes:

Paul therefore writes Romans to defend his gospel of the grace of God through Christ by arguing that it is rooted in the Old Testament (Rom. 2-5), providing the disclaimer that it is not antinomian in ethic (God’s grace is not a license to sin [so Rom. 6-8]), and holding out a future for Israel (Rom. 9-11).

Not all will agree with Pate’s view of “Romans as Paul’s official doctrinal statement,” but, then again, many will. I was wishing the introduction had given more attention to Paul’s theme of a justification by faith that is decidedly pan-ethnic. Pate does talk about “the end-time conversion of the nations,” but there is also a sense in which Paul is interested in multiethnic justification (where all are saved by faith, whether Jew or Gentile) now. Fortunately the body of the commentary does address this theme in places (e.g., in Rom. 3:21-26–“So Paul’s point is that God offers justification equitably to all”).

Roman empire map
From the commentary: map of the Roman Empire

Pate is able to interpret from multiple vantage points, synthesizing material across centuries that will benefit preachers in their sermon preparation. He moves from lexical analysis (Greek is transliterated) to 1st century historical background to practical theology in a fairly seamless manner. The illustrations are on point, too. He points out, for example, in Romans 13:13-14, that Augustine’s conversion story included meditation on these verses. The same unit includes an illustration involving Jean Valjean and Les Mis. Movie illustrations and hymn quotations are particularly present throughout, though preachers will also want to use their own, original illustrations, too.

The series claims to be “an essential commentary for pastors.” If and as pastoral budgets permit, I’d echo the sentiment and recommend this series as a worthy bookshelf addition.

More TTT volumes are on the way, including a posthumous Luke volume by the blessed R.T. France. Lord willing, as I continue to preach through Luke, I’ll review France’s volume in the future. A full-color pdf sample of Romans (including the introduction and first passage) is here.

Thanks to Baker Publishing for the review copy of Romans. Its Baker product page is here, and it is for sale at Amazon here.