Soon, I will tell you about some Lenten resources, and I have one very special new book that I can’t wait to tell you about, written by a local Dallastown pastor, in fact. It’s a remarkable, lectionary-based adult coloring book. More on that, soon — get your Crayolas ready; it is surprisingly intriguing.
Interactive, creative, personal or group reflections with experiential education activities (such as the tactile engagement using wooden pencils or colored markers or crayons) really are valuable for most of us; at least, certainly, for some folks. Although it may be a bit different, think of the fruitfulness found within contemplative children and youth curriculum such as Godly Play or the recent interest in praying the Scriptures, not just discussing them. (We have bunches of good books on lectio divina.) We hope you have numerous tools to help you explore the Scriptures in various ways.
I hope you are in churches that teach the Scriptures well, and that you are in Bible study groups and adult education forums that help you explore the Bible. That’s one of the reasons we did that BookNotes newsletter feature last time naming some introductions to the Bible and some opinions about our favorite study Bibles. These are, for serious Christians, tools of the trade. If you don’t need such items, maybe you know somebody who does. Campus workers, youth ministers, Sunday school teachers, growth group facilitators — surely you know folks who need to learn to read the Bible better, right? Maybe you could re-visit that BookNotes and see if anything seems useful for you or yours.
We also need classic, rich worship and, as part of that, good sermons.
Those that use the Revised Common Lectionary may know that it soon will invite preachers to work through some of the texts typically known as the Beatitudes. The odd upside-down “blessings” there are kind of background stuff for some of us, part of the Christian mindscape, but we don’t often get serious sermon series on those central chapters of Jesus’s teachings on the mount (or the plain, as it may be.) Two different pastors doing some study of this stuff contacted me last week for a listing of books we had on the Sermon on the Mount and/or the Beatitudes.
I compiled this list pretty quickly, on the run, as part of my daily job, telling folks about books on the shelves here in Dallastown. I’ve added a few more here, tonight, and figured I’d just share this quickly in case anyone else needs to reflect this season about the manifesto of what Donald Kraybill calls “the upside down Kingdom.” Give us a call if we can help further. We’ve got more than what we listed here, and we’re eager to serve you by helping you find what you need.
You can email us at email@example.com or call the store at 717-246-3333 or, of course, use the highlighted links at the bottom of this newsletter which take you to either our inquiry page where you can contact us with anything questions or comments or to our certified secure order form page. Just tell us what you want and we’ll confirm everything by email. Easy.
COMMENTARIES ON THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Of course, to get the full picture of the Matthew 5-6 we must take up the bigger context of the whole gospel according to Matthew. There are too many great commentaries of various “levels” and sorts — R.T. France in the Eerdman’s NICNT series is said to be truly superior if one wants a very academic one to own and I’m a fan of the Zondervan NIV Application Commentary series (the one on Matthew is by Michael J. Wilkins) if you want a relatively easy to read one to guide preaching or teaching. But I’d also at least want to go on record suggesting these:
The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Matthew Michael Green (IVP) $22.00 I always appreciate the commentaries in the series called The Bible Speaks Today:The Message of… for basic, useful, inspiring content. The BST: The Message of Matthew is by the late scholar/pastor from the Church of England. He’s fairly evangelical in orientation, passionate about outreach, and I like him a lot. There are even discussion/reflection questions at the end, making it that much more useful. Serious enough, but not weighty. For those who don’t need a technical one, start here.
Matthew for Everyone Part 1 and Matthew for Everyone Part 2 N.T. Wright (WJK) $18.00 each I hope you respect Tom Wright’s historical, Biblical, and theological chops as much as I do and here we are given another glimpse into a remarkable gift he has — he can speak to ordinary folks with common jargon without slipping into being maudlin or sappy or overly partisan. These are common sense, but with a powerful bit of insight along the way. There is good exegesis, a bit of big picture background, and nice illustrations or stories for teaching or preaching. There are “…for Everyone” volumes for the whole New Testament, of course. Nicely done.
The Pillar New Testament Commentary The Gospel According to Matthew Leon Morris (Eerdmans) $55.00 This serious series is known for being mostly evangelical, straight-forward, with clear and good interpretation of the text for preachers and teachers; not a lot of big picture criticism or interaction with various theories and secondary sources. Just good explanation of what the text says, a bit technical, but not overly so. Leon Morris is an Anglican from Australia, I believe. Solid stuff.
Matthew: A Commentary Volume 1 and Matthew: A Commentary Volume 2 Frederick Dale Bruner (Eerdmans) $40.00 and $45.00 This is a spectacular two volume set that used to be called The Christ Book and The Church Book and are now out in less spiffy titles, but in glorious revised and expanded editions. These are fabulous for any number of reasons and I have heard from more than one customer that these are a great example of just what a good commentary should be. Kudos! It’s very useful for serious teachers and preachers, I’d say, and a very worthy investment for anyone with a library of Bible resources.
Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Matthew Stanley Hauerwas (Brazos Press) $28.00 This series of commentaries, edited by R.R. Reno of First Things fame, brings a uniquely theological lens to the text, not just abstract exegesis, but is asking in stimulating ways what this book of the canon means. Professor Hauerwas is an academic genius, of course, and a legendary preacher who loves the church, too, and is also known as a rather crusty pacifist, so his insights on the Sermon on the Mount portion of Matthew might be useful in stretching you into pondering the theological implications of this part of the first gospel.
The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary Craig Keener (Eerdmans) $60.00 I wish this weren’t so expensive as it is magisterial, without being too arcane. His encyclopedic knowledge of early church and other sources is legendary. He’s especially strong on cultural stuff which is really interesting. (He was one of the editors of the NIV Cultural Background Study Bible that I described in our last post.) This major work covers every sentence and offers practical insight as well. Fabulous, if a bit dense and expensive.
Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew Volume 1 and Volume 2 edited by Cynthia Jarvis and Elizabeth Johnson (WJK) $40.00 each I am sure you know the Feasting on the Word commentary series. Those offer four takes (from four angles) on each lectionary pericope. This two part set are produced by the same folks, in that same nice size and follows that same “4-eyed” approach but is on the entire book of Matthew (not just the lectionary choices for any given year.) They have these for each of the four gospels, by the way. In these you solve the problem of wondering what voice to hear, which commentaries to buy; there’s a variety of authors, short pieces from varying views on each passage (theological, pastoral, exegetical, and homiletical.) Written by a range of mainline denominational folks.
STUDIES OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
The Upside Down Kingdom Donald Kraybill (Herald Press) $16.99 This is one of those books in my own life that was seminal in many ways. I intuited much of this even as a high school kid struggling with the Viet Nam war-ear draft but reading it made in the late 70s allow much about the Kingdom of God gel into place. Dr. Kraybill, with Ron Sider, is one of those evangelical anabaptists that takes both the saving gospel and the radical ethics of Scriptures seriously. I think this is a tremendous book, and his explanations of the cultural backgrounds on the beatitudes is helpful, if quite challenging.
Story of God Bible Commentaries: Sermon on the Mount Scot McKnight (Zondervan) $29.99 Did you by any chance see in a recent BookNotes newsletter I did a shout out to this ongoing series, of which there are maybe six or seven books of the Bible done. They are easy to use, with a three fold approach — the place of the book under study in the Biblical story, the teaching or exegesis of what the texts say, and then the application or insight for contemporary witness. I like these a lot, and this one, on the Sermon on the Mount, is very useful for preachers or teachers, I’d say. There are more sophisticated commentaries on Matthew (do you know the two volume set by Frederick Dale Bruner? So good.) but this on the Sermon is really useful.
The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount John Stott (IVP Academic) $18.00 No list on the Sermon on the Mount would be complete without this useful, sturdy, easy to use, compelling commentary. I like all the BST series of commentaries. This was first out under the title “Christian Counterculture” and although I don’t think he embraces all of these counter-cultural ways vividly enough, it’s very helpful and an important resource.
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Eerdmans) $30.00 Lloyd-Jones was a London preacher and Bible teacher whom some consider one of the most influential in the 20th century. He’s got Puritan instincts, is rigorously Reformed, and this is a thorough, nearly tedious, study. Some consider this a spiritual classic. For a quicker, less costly read in a somewhat similar vein see The Sermon on the Mount by the eloquent Scottish preacher Sinclair Ferguson (Banner of Truth; $8.00.) Sweet stuff, with some clear teaching about the role of law and grace and gospel-centered transformation.
The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God Dallas Willard (HarperOne) $25.99 Do you know Willard? He was philosophy prof who was also a deep Christian saturated in the classics, who early or mentored Richard Foster and encouraged him to write about the spiritual disciplines. His books were often about inner transformation, about God’s revolutionary way of re-calibrating our hearts and changing our character into the image of Christ. This is his most groundbreaking book and most of it is centered on an explication of the Sermon on the Mount.
Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance Glen Stassen (Jossey Bass) $22.95 This was going to be a series of books called”Enduring Questions in the Christian Life” but they only did three, I think. I loved this. Stassen took Lewis Smedes’ chair as the ethics prof at Fuller, and he was a serious, Reformed thinker, a peacemaker and social activist of sorts. I so appreciated his taking theology, Bible, and applying it to life in these times. This is really good, sort of an applied living out of the ways of the Kingdom. He says that these are not legalistic rules or unreachable ideals but “a recipe for wholeness and healing in our human relationships and deliverance from the vicious cycles that we get stuck in.”
Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount Richard Rohr & John Bookser Feister (Franciscan Media) $14.99 I like Rohr’s blend of charismatic leaning on the Holy Spirit, vibrant and serious Christian social witness, and a desire to read the Biblical text in such a way that it inspires folks to be transformed from the inside out, deepening their trust in God and their love of others. When this came out years ago neo-liberal politicians were talking about a “new world order” and this invites us to see the coming reign of God and it’s values explicated here, as the real new order.
Father Rohr says: “I doubt that any major political leader would align a new world order in terms of cooperation, trust, service and redemptive suffering… For all the talk of a new world order, it’s simply the old world order. The real New World Order, he says, “is the heart of the New Testament.”
The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis and Life in the Kingdom Jamie Arpin-Rici (IVP) $16.00 Jamie is a Canadian lay Franciscan who is Protestant who serves the poor and builds community, inspired by the way the real St. Francis. The first part of this moving book is on the Beatitudes, the rest on the Sermon on the Mount, but not as a typical Bible study but more by way of telling his own story of building a community and the hardships of living that kind of blessed life together. On the back it says “this book is a field report with insights about what life together in the spirit of Jesus’ teachings offers and demands. Discover the true cost of community.”
Become What You Are: Spiritual Formation According to the Sermon on the Mount William W. Klein (IVP) $20.00 This sounds a bit like Dallas Willard, actually, and because it was first published in England, I never got any advanced stuff on it and only recently discovered it. Alas, I’ve never looked at it, although I’m interested: here’s what they say about it: “If you were sitting today on a hillside listening to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, how ought you respond? Become What You Are is the insider’s guide to Jesus’ agenda?the goal of spiritual formation. This goal is a transformed heart, a change at the inner center of our being, that leads to a life that pleases God. Or, as a shorthand, it means becoming like Christ. This unique approach to the most famous sermon juxtaposes analysis with practice sections throughout. In the analysis sections, the essential meaning of the text?what Jesus and Matthew were driving at?is explained for each section of the sermon. A practice section follows, calling you to engage Jesus’ meaning for yourself. By understanding what the Sermon meant in its context and how you can take it seriously in this modern world, as a follower of Jesus, you will be able to become what you are.”
The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination Dale Allison (Crossroad Publishing Company) $24.95 Allison is an amazing man, one of the top handful of world renowned Matthew scholars, a Presbyterian who favors Orthodoxy, formerly of the NT department at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and now at Princeton, and a bit of an eccentric mystic — he has a book about ponderings about death and he’s interested in the paranormal (but I digress.) This is mature, thoughtful, mind-blowing stuff. The promo on the book says: …Dale Allison insists that the full meaning of these chapters in Matthew’s Gospel can be seen only in relation to the broader literary context of the Gospel as a whole, with its Jewish Christian orientation. Indeed, the Sermon and the moral imperatives it contains must be understood: 1) in relation to the example provided by Jesus’ words and deeds elsewhere in the Gospel; 2) with reference to the community of believers that constitutes the intended audience of Matthew’s Gospel; and 3) in terms of what the Gospel says elsewhere about the end of the age. The Sermon does not present a simple set of rules, perhaps only intended for a small and select group within the Christian community, but seeks to instill a moral vision and to inspire the moral imagination of all who would follow Jesus
Preaching the Sermon on the Mount: The World It Imagines edited by Dave Bland, David Fleer, Warren Carter (Chalice Press) $15.99 I suppose this collection of essays and sermons will be very helpful for some mainline preachers although it is rooted in a fairly progressive theology. Chalice is Disciples of Christ with an affinity for UCC, so you may know some of the contributors. I know a few — Lucy Lind Hogan has done stuff on “roundtable” preaching as a feminist, Hauerwas, of course, speaks bluntly from Duke, Lee Camp has a book I like on radical discipleship, Richard Hughes is a wonderfully thoughtful guy who used to be at Messiah College near us here, although I think he is now at Lipscomb.
Here’s what they say in the promo, saying Preaching the Sermon… offers:
speech of resistance to the forces and institutions that dominate the world. This two-part volume brings together the thoughts of biblical scholars and storytellers, theologians and historians, and evangelical and mainline scholars. Eighteen writers tackle Jesus’ landmark sermon, as timely in today’s discussions of empire, occupation, poverty, and wars as ever. They demonstrate that the Sermon on the Mount puts before us not an impossible ideal, but a vision of what God’s people can be when they choose by God’s grace to live in God’s Kingdom. Contributors include: editors David Fleer and Dave Bland, Ronald J. Allen, Chris Altrock, Lee C. Camp, Charles Campbell, Warren Carter, Jeff Christian, Dennis Dewey, Stanley Hauerwas, Richard Hughes, Kenneth R. Greene, Lucy Lind Hogan, Charme Robarts, Rubel Shelly, John Siburt, Dean Smith, and Jerry Taylor.
The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom R. Kent Hughes (Crossway) $32.99 This series “Preaching the Word” offers exegetical advice on expository sermons and, as such, is one of the best commentary series I know doing this kind of thing. It is conservative, Reformed, mostly, and impeccable, even if it is moderate in application — that is, not radical like Crosby or literal like Kraybill. It’s thoughtful, sound, professional, although I’d wish for just a few more rough edges or wildness to it. I like this whole series, mostly. Funny, just today a customer asked about his book on Numbers, of all things, and I spent some time reading it. Really interesting! This is a good, evangelical series by top-notch communicator and working pastor.
Speaking Jesus: Homiletic Theology and the Sermon on the Mount David Buttrick (WJK) $30.00 Since I’m on a roll, I thought I’d list this which we have under preaching. I really can’t say I understand what it is about but Buttrick is legendary in some circles. On the back it says: “In Speaking Jesus, Buttrick delineates the theological issues inherent in the Sermon on the Mount and presents a homiletical strategy for preaching its meaning and relevance. In Part One, Buttrick gives a general overview of the text and raises central theological issues imperative to its preaching, particularly the authenticity of Jesus’ words and the sermon’s relevance for today. In Part Two, he offers his commentary on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, provides suggestions for preaching, and includes some of his own sermons as examples.”
REFLECTIONS ON THE BEATITUDES
The Beatitudes George Hunsinger (Paulist Press) $19.95 This recent, slim hardback is quite an important little book written by a major theological voice of our day. Hunsinger, you may know, is one of the clearest interpreters of Karl Barth, graduate of Yale Divinity School, a former social activist, and, for many years, a esteemed professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. That he is deeply ecumenical is inspiring, and this book — published by a Roman Catholic publisher — is being widely lauded.
Here are two nice blurbs from the back cover:
This is a very profound and moving book. George Hunsinger not only deepens our appreciation of Jesus, but also brings out powerfully how the Beatitudes possess significance for today. His treatment of world poverty, the environmental crisis, nonviolence, religious persecution, and much more, could not be more timely for the church and the world. I cannot recommend this work too highly. — Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Generations of Christians have had their understanding of their faith and the nature of the Christian life deepened by reflection and meditation on the Beatitudes guided by the great theologians of the church. George Hunsinger has given us such guidance for our time. This book will surely find its way into the hands of pastors and congregants for generations to come. This book is a gem. — Willie James Jenning, Yale University
The Spirituality of the Beatitudes: Matthew’s Vision for the Church in an Unjust World Michael Crosby (Orbis) $20.00 This is nearly akin to liberation theology, rooted in radical Catholic social teaching, and I think it is really, really worth reading. I read the first edition, this one is “expanded and updated.” It’s also about the best textual study I know of, although I haven’t read Hunsinger (yet.) I’d recommend it.
Momentum: Pursuing God’s Blessings Through the Beatitudes Colin S. Smith (Moody Press) $14.99 This is a great example of how a very conventional preacher can offer messages that are straight-on Biblical teaching, informed by older interpreters (from the likes of the Puritans, Bonar, M’Cheyne, Spurgeon, Martin Lloyd-Jones, and moderns like A.W. Tozer) and make them sound as relevant and compelling as if they were written yesterday. Even the marketing — the cover and title — make this seem seeker-sensitive and upbeat; the author is a gifted communicator and solid Bible guy. He is senior pastor of the fruitful multi-campus, Orchard Evangelical Free Church.
Gregory of Nyssa: Sermons on the Beatitudes Michael Glerup (IVP) $15.00 Well, how about this? These are modern paraphrases and adaptations of real sermons preached in the 300s. Part of IVPs “Classics in Spiritual Formation” series. Wow.
The Beatitudes for Today James Howell (WJK) $14.00 This is part of a very nice, upbeat and modern series of books published by Presbyterian USA publisher, Westminster John Knox. Reliable, accessible, moderate in tone it’s about 135 pages. Howell is a United Methodist pastor and did a book on Micah 6:8 as well. There are discussion questions, too.
The Beatitudes Darrell Johnson (Regent College Publishing) $15.99 Johnson teaches at Regent in British Columbia, where James Houston, Eugene Peterson, and Marva Dawn were. I have not read this but I know his excellent book on Revelation and a wonderful little volume on the Trinity. No-nonsense, solid stuff, I’m sure. We stock almost everything Regent College Publishing does.
Beatitudes from the Back Side: A Different Take on What it Means to be Blessed J. Ellsworth Kalas (Abingdon) $14.99 Kalas is a fine writer, with the “from the Back Side” bit on a number of classic Bible stories. (Like Christmas from the Back Side, The Old Testament from the Back Side, etc.) He mostly means by “back side” just a slightly askew view, heading into the story slant, but it really is fairly ordinary stuff, not radical or odd. Actually, it’s just creative enough to be interesting, but commonplace enough to be useful and edifying. So, this is just a fairly ordinary book, with some discussion and reflection questions, too.
Sermons on the Beatitudes John Calvin (Banner of Truth) $20.00 Okay, now I’m just showing off. This book compiles messages of Calvin from what was apparently a sermon series he started in 1559 and was not even completed in 1564 when he retired.
The Ladder of the Beatitudes Jim Forest (Orbis) $17.00 I actually am intrigued by Jim Forest, who I met years ago. He was a friend of Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day, part of the international peace group the “Fellowship of Reconciliation.” In the 80s or 90s he lived in Russia as part of a peacemaking exchange and found his rather liberal Catholicism give way as he became seriously Orthodox. Now he writes mostly spiritual stuff (like a wonderful book on reconciliation rites) and this, on the Beatitudes as “rungs of a ladder” as some mystic readings have suggested.
Seven: The Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes Jeff Cook (Zondervan) $15.99 I really, really enjoyed this lively, but wise, book which contrasts the seven deadly sins with the Beatitudes. This was apparently an approach in the middle ages, and he shares it here in an upbeat, contemporary style.
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