Titus For You, Reviewed

Tim Keller’s For You series now includes contributions from other authors. I reviewed Keller’s Romans 1-7 For You here. In this post I review Tim Chester’s Titus For You.

But allow me to allow Chester to introduce the book. Here he is:

 

The books in the For You series claim to not be commentaries. Instead, the Titus For You product page describes what kind of book it is:

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

• READ: As a guide to this wonderful letter, exciting and equipping you to live out the truth in your life.
• 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 Titus as you preach or lead a Bible study.

Titus For YouThe book is short and its tone conversational. Chester begins with a short introduction to the book, then divides Titus into seven units (each of them split again into two parts) for comment. Reflection questions throughout help the reader digest the book, and could also be used in small group settings. At the close is a short glossary and six-book bibliography of sorts.

What folks will find most beneficial about Chester’s book is his ability to re-state Paul in easy-to-understand terms. For example, when discussing Titus 1:7-11 Chester says:

There are two common dangers in pastoral ministry and Paul is alert to both of them. They are what we might call over-pastoring and under-pastoring.

He elaborates on each kind of pastoring to help explain Paul’s exhortations to Titus in this first chapter.

Similarly helpful was Chester’s description in the section on Titus 2 (especially verse 14) of the Christian’s identity:

In Christ, we are members of the royal family of the universe. That is our status, and we cannot lose it. And our behaviour should match who we are. Royal children have royal manners.

One can easily see Chester’s concern with practical application of Paul’s letter in broader contexts. This makes it suitable as a go-to for devotional reading.

The introduction to Titus was not as substantive as I’d have liked. Or, at least, I wouldn’t feel prepared to lead a small group through the book from just having read this short introduction. (There was hardly anything about Crete, Titus’s setting.) Even the introduction in a good Study Bible (of similar or shorter length) could be more elucidating as to how to understand and read Titus.

I appreciated Chester’s interpretation of Titus as having to do with church “succession planning.” He (rightly, in my opinion) distinguishes between instructions for church structures that are “context-specific” and those that are “for ministry in every time and place.”

Nonetheless, I disagree with Chester’s interpretation that eldership in the church is to be male-only. This is a piece of Paul’s letter that I take to be context-specific and not universally binding–though I’m not sure Paul even intended in Titus to be talking about an elder’s sex, as such. Even as I tried to have an open mind on the issue, I didn’t think that the author made much of a case for his interpretation of Titus. And the idea of men as “good leaders in their home” does not really appear in Titus at all–not even in a context-specific instance.

UPDATE, 6/30/14: I glossed over this before, but wanted to mention (along similar lines as the above) that I found his application of Titus 2 to be offensive. I’m sure he didn’t intend it to be, but nonetheless: “It is not that younger women cannot have a career. But if they are wives and mothers, home is the primary place where they are to serve.” On the contrary, this is not a biblical mandate, and God calls plenty of “wives and mothers” to serve outside of the home, even to have robust careers… just as God calls “husbands and fathers” to the same!

There are some typos scattered throughout the book (including erroneously spelled Greek, as was also true in the Keller Romans volume) that the reader will have to try to ignore.

I did find Titus For You a largely worthwhile read (in spite of interpretive disagreements I had at other spots, too), but I think that for background and Bible study and teaching preparation, readers might want to start elsewhere. Then, perhaps, one could turn to Titus For You for some helpful suggestions as to how to understand and teach the application of the passages–theological caveat above notwithstanding.

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

Timothy Keller’s Romans 1-7 For You

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.