The Christ of Wisdom by O. Palmer Robertson

The Christ of WisdomThe Christ of Wisdom: A Redemptive-Historical Exploration of the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament

by O. Palmer Robertson

eARC, 432 pg.
P&R Publishing, 2017

Read: May 7 – 21, 2017


Robertson’s preface laments the way that the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament is usually ignored in Redemptive-Historical studies —

…how do you fit these wisdom books into the flow of redemptive history that consummates in the Christ? By letting them be what they are in their own distinctiveness. They are, it should be remembered, canonical, divinely revealed, and authoritative writings that tell the world how and what to think about the deeper mysteries of human life. Rather than submitting to the moldings and bendings of modernity, these books broaden our understanding of the nature of redemptive history. Divine progress in the complete restoration of reality does not merely move in a purely linear fashion like the flight of an arrow moving across time and space without deviation until it reaches its target. This “third dimension” of redemptive history moves in a cyclical pattern. For certain aspects of God’s salvation perform according to a pattern of regulated repetition.

To ignore this dimension of redemptive history is to exclude a major portion of the old covenant canon—and that you do not want to do.

So how do you discuss these books from a RH point of view? This is what Robertson seeks to do in this book — not as a final answer, but as the beginning of a search for wisdom along these paths.

In one sense, Robertson could’ve made this easier to talk about this book — there’s not one central argument developed throughout. There’s a general discussion (brief) of wisdom, wisdom Biblically defined, that is. And then using that discussion, Robertson looks at the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament (and Lamentations, which is not usually considered Wisdom Literature, but can function as such), summarizing each book, looking at the various forms of wisdom described and passed on through it.

Simply,

Wisdom is the ability to understand the basic principles inherent in God’s created order, and to live by those principles. Wisdom enables a person to summarize these basic principles in a succinct and memorable fashion. Wisdom is living out the whole of life with a constant awareness of accountability before a loving, gracious, and just Creator and Redeemer.

The work he does to get to this summary is well worth the time and effort to work through. Actually, that goes for everything in the book, but I’ll hold off on saying that kind of thing for a few paragraphs.

The chapter on Proverbs is, fittingly, the longest and most developed. He discusses various approaches to the book, to understanding its construction and from there trying to understand it:

A much more accurate view of the theology of Proverbs may be gained from a covenantal perspective. The wise sayings of the book are not presented in a vacuum. They are not purely moralistic aphorisms. Instead, they are steeped in theistic assumptions. These wise observations about how the world works assume that God the Creator is none other than Yahweh, the Lord of the Covenant.

This, right here, would help so much of what I’ve read about Proverbs over the last few decades. To get into everything that Robertson says about the pursuit of Wisdom, passing it on and living by it from this book would make this post unbearably long — but it builds the foundation for everything that comes. Proverbs covers Wisdom as a whole — the rest of the book deals with it in specific areas.

While dealing with the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs 8, Robertson gives an excursus, “Athanasius as the Champion of the opponents of Arianism,” that is just gold. I’d love to see this developed into something longer.

Following Proverbs, he moves on to Job. Job doesn’t give us the answers to the puzzling circumstances of life, but for those who understand the book, they learn how to puzzle through the circumstances, how to think about them — how to ask God about them. Yes, there are answers given in the book — not easy answers, not the answers anyone necessarily wants, but answers — answers tied to the hope of the Resurrection. But wisdom knows to look for those answers in the difficulties of life, with a sure faith that is willing to look at dark circumstances and say, “I don’t know why this is happening, but I trust in Him Who does.”

Ecclesiastes, is, naturally, a tricky chapter — Robertson threw me a curveball when setting aside the usual discussion of authorship of the book to note

But a related question of some significance for understanding the book has been generally neglected. This neglected question is the identity of the “target audience”of Ecclesiastes.

Chewing on this a little helps get through some of the discussion of authorship. There are so many divergent readings of Ecclesiastes that your head can swim just trying to get a sense of them, Robertson is a pretty sure guide through them before landing on his conclusion that Ecclesiastes presents a “realistic picture of life” — one that is a precursor to Paul’s discussion in Romans 8, where creation is subjected to frustration, but that this is being renewed. I do think this chapter could’ve been organized in a more straight-forward way, but I appreciate the way that Robertson makes you work through various considerations and themes before leading to his conclusions — which are all very helpful.

His discussion of Lamentations, summed up in the subtitle “How to Weep,” was one of the best things I’ve read on the book (an admittedly too-short list). You may think that’s a pretty easy thing to learn — but there’s a wise way, a godly way to weep over the tragedies that will come into our lives. The book of Lamentations teaches us that — and, here’s the RH emphasis coming through — there’s a hope tied to the wise weeping. A hope tied to faith in God’s commitment to preserving a repentant people to Himself.

Lastly, we get to the wisdom of “How to Love” (in a marital sense) in the Song of Songs. The way he reads the book is a “Redemptive-Historical” way, in

terms of the redemptive work of God in restoring humanity to the situation prevailing at the time of creation . . . a restoration of the initial blessing of man and woman in their relation to each other, just as when they first stood in each other’s presence “both naked” but feeling “no shame” (Gen. 2:25). This Song rejoices in the fullness of God’s redemption of the marriage relationship.

He concludes this chapter uniquely, with a script for a Dramatic Reading of the Song of Songs — I think there could’ve been a bit more instruction on how to approach such a Reading — and why — than he gave. But I really appreciated that part.

He could’ve used a conclusion to wrap things up — returning to the closing admonition of the opening chapter. But that’s probably just a taste thing on my part.

There’s a focus on the literary/poetic forms in each book tying in the themes and teachings of them to the way the author presents them. This kind of discussion — no matter the type of literature (inspired or not) always stretches me. I imagine I’m not alone in that — in fact, I bet many people will skip those parts. This is to their own detriment. Robertson discusses these matters in a way that takes some effort to understand, but it’s effort that pays off.

This is a truly helpful book — not full-fledged commentaries on any of the books, but helpful summaries pointed towards seeing the wisdom passed down in each book, and tied into the Redemptive work going on in history all around us. I found it interesting that the recent A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament doesn’t approach some of these books the same way as Robertson — in some ways flatly contradicting him. I’d hoped for more overlap between the two works approaching this material from the same framework — but none of the contradictions or differences change the overall message of the Biblical material, just shadings. Honestly, in each case, I think Robertson’s readings are easier to square with the texts in consideration (and not just because he has more pages to develop his points, either).

Robertson, as always, delivers the goods with this book. The reader has to think about what he says, has to drag out their Bible and use the two books together, but will ultimately come out the better for it. I found this book to be incredibly helpful, insightful and something that drove me back to the fullness and fulfillment of all the wisdom of God — Jesus the Messiah. Just where Robertson wants his readers to focus.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from P&R Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

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4 Stars

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The Last Adam by Brandon D. Crowe

The Last AdamThe Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels

by Brandon D. Crowe

Paperback, 215 pg.
Baker Academic, 2017

Read: February 19 – March 19, 2017


I just don’t know how to sum up this book succinctly honestly. After a few attempts that are best never seen by anyone, I decided that no one does it better than Crowe does in the first three paragraphs:

What is the purpose and significance of the life and ministry of Jesus in the Gospels? At one level, this may seem like an obvious question. The Gospels are all about Jesus. Moreover, given the structure of each of the four Gospels, it is difficult to miss the central role played by the Passion Narratives. And yet there is much more in the Gospels beyond the Passion Narratives. Jesus is amazingly active. He preaches, heals, exorcises, prays, rebukes, forgives, calls, authorizes, confounds, challenges, rejoices, weeps, blesses, curses, prophesies, and more. In addition, he consistently draws attention to himself as he does these things.

And then there are the Christmas stories (that is, the infancy narratives). These are among the more familiar parts of the Gospels in today’s culture. But what is the relationship between the infancy narratives and salvation? Jesus appears to be quite passive lying in the manger as he is adored by shepherds, and we do not find him to be very active when the magi come and prostrate themselves before him in Matthew 2. But can we look even to the infancy of Jesus and say that Jesus was somehow already beginning to accomplish something of significance? To ask this question is to lead us back to the driving question of this volume, since Jesus did not bypass infancy, childhood, adolescence, or adulthood on his way to the cross. Why? What was it about the life of Jesus that was necessary for salvation—from the manger to the cross and everything in between? Do the Evangelists themselves give us any indications that this is a question they have in view as they write their Gospels? I will argue that they do.

In this volume I will argue that we find a shared perspective among the diversity of the four Gospels that the obedient life of Jesus—in its entirety—is vicarious and salvific in character. More specifically, I will argue that Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as the last Adam whose obedience is necessary for God’s people to experience the blessings of salvation. In pursuit of this thesis, I will consider what the Gospels themselves say about the lifelong obedience of Jesus, which concomitantly involves considering how Jesus’s life and ministry are related to his passion. By concentrating on the Gospels I do not intend to imply that these are the only documents in the New Testament that speak to this issue. I do believe, however, that a focus on the Gospels qua Gospels is important because of the way they narrate the life of Jesus, and because their testimony to the significance of Jesus’s life for salvation has often not been given sufficient attention. Thus a sub-aim of this book is to help us read and interpret the Gospels theologically.

So, there’s his aim, rather, there are his aims. How does he go about it? Here’s the Table of Contents to give you a look at how he’s approaching his arguments (yeah, I’m quoting a lot here, but you try to tackle this book in a blog post rather than a dozen or so page review and see how easy it is):

1. A Tale of Two Adams in the History of Interpretation
2. The Last Adam and the Son of Man in the Gospels
3. The Last Adam as the Obedient Son of God
4. The Last Adam and the Fulfillment of Scripture
5. The Glory of the Last Adam in the Gospel of John
6. The Last Adam and the Kingdom of Righteousness
7. The Death and Resurrection of the Last Adam
8. The Last Adam and Salvation: Theological Synthesis and Conclusions

This is primarily an exegetical work — dealing with the text of the Gospels directly. But Crowe leans upon historical and systematic theology as well (especially in Chapter 8). Outside of Chapter 5, he’s primarily dealing with the Synoptics — but not exclusively. It is not impossible to read for the dedicated layman — I’ve read more difficult works in the last few months, but it’s not something you can skim with profit. There are issues that I’m not sure I understand the purpose of addressing, as I’m not aware of all of the academic controversies he’s addressing, but even when you don’t understand everything about those portions of the book, you can still gain from working through them.

I learned a lot. I thought about passages in a way I haven’t before — seeing things in a new light, or at least a different light. I really don’t have a lot to say about this particular book — primarily I just wanted to post about it to maybe get a reader or two to look at it that might not have otherwise. I loved it, even when I had to work a little harder than usual to get what he was saying, it was worth it. This is the kind of thing the Church needs more of.

This is written from a Confessionally Reformed perspective, but not necessarily for the Confessionally Reformed any more than other Evangelical/Evangelical-ish readers. Although, the Reformed will be more used to thinking in some of the categories he uses than others (as Crowe indicates late in this interview).

This is not an easy read, this is not a quick read, but it is a good read (why do I feel like Lewis’ Mr. Beaver now?). This is theology that will lead to doxology — as well as more theological and doxological reflection and study. I wasn’t sure what I expected to get out of this book, but Crowe delivered it and more. I’m not doing a good job summing things up here, just get this book and read it (as well as all the books Crowe writes that you can afford, I’m pretty sure I never got around to posting about his book on the General Epistles which was almost as good as this one (and easier to read)).

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4 1/2 Stars

Sons in the Son by David B. Garner

Sons in the Son Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ

by David B. Garner

eARC, 400 pg.
P & R , 2017

Read: October 23 – December 11, 2016

At the heart of Pauline soteriology is the redemptive-historically charged concept of adoption (huiothesia). For Paul, the entirety of our redemption—from the mind of God before creation itself until its eschatological completion in our bodily resurrection—is expressed by filial reality, filial identity, and a filially framed union. As we will see in the following pages, this filial grace in Christ Jesus is expressly and implicitly, in Pauline theology, adoption.

I remember the first time I was really introduced to the doctrine of Adoption — sure, the idea had been mentioned throughout my Christian life, and using some material from an Ancient History class on Roman culture, I’d developed my understanding a bit, but it wasn’t until I’d been Reformed for a year or two that I heard someone seriously discuss the doctrine — the elder of the church I belonged to at the time walked us through the Westminster Confession’s teaching on it — the most robust development and explanation of the doctrine in Reformed Confessional history. I recall being struck by this teaching, how vital it was — and then hearing very little about it (on the whole) for the next couple of decades.

You see, despite being one of the three benefits the Westminster Shorter Catechism says that they who are effectually called partake of in this life (the other two being justification and sanctification, with several benefits that flow from or accompany these three), by and large, it’s been ignored in favor of the other two. Garner will describe it as a “deafening theological silence characterizing huiothesia [adoption] since the WCF.” It’s a slight exaggeration, but only slight.

Garner wants to push this doctrine to the forefront, to the limelight that it deserves, has pursued this in various forms throughout the years, and now brings it all into focus through this outstanding book.

He begins by describing various approaches to the topic — historically, linguistically, and so on — and sets out how he will proceed and build upon the best (primarily: Calvin and Westminster). This is a daunting section, but does well setting forth the landscape. It was interesting and thorough, I don’t know that it wowed me at any point, but it certainly whet my appetite for that which lay ahead.

Part 2 is where the major Biblical heavy lifting takes place — Garner goes for in-depth exegetical looks at each text that touches on the topic, building both a case for each text individually, as well as a Biblical-Theological whole. I will be honest, a lot of this went over my head — at least the details. But Garner writes in a way to ensure that even untrained laity can follow the his train of thought.

In part 3, Garner brings Adoption into Systematic Theology, primarily discussing its relation to Justification and Sanctification. He brushes up against some of the recent Justification controversies here, and demonstrates how a better understanding of Adoption, can (and should) play a significant role in resolving them. He does similar work with some Sanctification controversies — but not as much, partially because Justification has been a larger issue of late, and because historically Adoption has been (incorrectly) considered as forensically as Justification. This section probably takes more work to understand than the Exegetical section, but that could be just because I don’t try to get too much of a handle on the Greek, and I don’t have that hang up with English. Takes more work, sure, but doable.

Garner isn’t writing for laity explicitly, but he doesn’t write in a way that’s only accessible by theologians and scholars. Yeah, you sometimes there’s a lot of technical jargon to wade through, but it can be done (if nothing else, you feel smarter — and probably learn a couple of things). It was a bit weightier than most of what I’ve been reading lately, and I took my time with it to make sure it didn’t overwhelm me (it easily could have).

It’s absolutely worth the effort — this book is full of pastoral application, it will help you understand and appreciate the Pauline texts — and will deepen your assurance. This is quite possibly the best book I’ve read this year. Read this one. I will re-read it — I’m even going to buy a hard copy when this is released, you should, too.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from P & R Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. I meant it, I’m buying a hard copy as soon as I can.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

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5 Stars

Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? by L. Michael Morales

Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?: A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus

by L. Michael Morales
Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology, #37

Paperback, 306 pg.
IVP Academic, 2015

Read: October 16 – November 27, 2016


So this is another one of those books that I’m not really qualified to talk about, but . . . whoops, here I go.

Morales doesn’t give us what you typically find/look for in a study of Leviticus — detailed explanations — or dodges — of the various purity laws and other commands and regulations contained in it. Instead, he begins by explaining his conclusion that Leviticus is the center of the Pentateuch, and that Chapter 16 is the center of it. Beginning in Genesis, everything is leading up to the Day of Atonement, and then everything from that is to be seen as the result of, or in light of that day.

That’s a lousy summary, but that’s the best you’re going to get from me in a couple of sentences. The argument is so detailed, so complex that I can’t really do much better without spending a few pages on it — and no one wants to read that (especially since you can read Morales doing a better job). At first, I thought that it was an interesting idea, but it really didn’t matter much. But as I read on and understood what he was doing better, it started to capture my imagination and draw me in. This was well argued, well researched — and well explained for even non-technical types like me.

But when it comes to Biblical Theology, the proof in the pudding comes from tying in his theses to the unfolding story of redemption — first in Israel’s story and then showing how it leads to Christ and His work on earth, His Ascension and pouring out of His Spirit to prepare a people to meet with Him on Mount Zion. The last two chapters were fantastic — and I’m going to have to reread them a few times to really wrap my brain around it all. There were moments of beauty here — it’s hard for an academically-inclined work to inspire and touch the emotions of a reader, but Morales did it.

This volume is the first I’ve read in New Studies in Biblical Theology (I believe it’s the first I heard of it, too) — the series is edited by D. A. Carson. The series aims “to simultaneously instruct and to edify, to interact with current scholarship and to point the way ahead. . . While volume notes interact with the best of recent research, the text of each work avoids untransliterated Greek and Hebrew or too much specialist jargon. The volumes are written within the framework of confessional evangelicalism, but they also engage a variety of other relevant viewpoints and significant literature.” If this is a representative volume, it won’t be my last in the series. If I can just pick another — the list of 41 is daunting — just too many choices.

Anyway, Who Shall Ascend was a challenging, interesting, educational and inspiring work — there’s not much more that you can ask for. If you’re up for the work, I heartily recommend it.

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4 Stars