Saturday, November 24, 2012

Review of READING THE GOSPELS WISELY by Jonathan Pennington

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Gospels of the New Testament give us the life and teachings of Jesus, and in the Gospel of Matthew in particular, Jesus says that whoever does the words that he says is like a wise man who built his house on a foundation of rock rather than a foolish man who built his house on a foundation of sand. If the Gospels give us the life and the words of Jesus, then according to Jesus, there is a wise way to read the gospels, and there is a foolish way to read the gospels. The wise way of reading leads us into deeper relationship with Jesus and results in personal transformation.

READING THE GOSPELS WISELY by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Jonathan Pennington is an invaluable guidebook on understanding what kind of writings the gospels are, their purpose, and how to read them in a way that draws us closer to Jesus and transforms our hearts.

Pennington spends considerable time exploring the literary genre of the gospels and gives us a working definition of what the gospels are, “Our canonical gospels are the theological, historical, and aretological (virtue-forming) biographical narratives that retell the story and proclaim the significance of Jesus Christ, who through the power of the Spirit is the Restorer of God’s reign.” He explains why we need the gospels and why we need four of them. He also works to show that the teachings of Paul and other New Testament writers were built upon the content that would be recording in the four Gospels, so that there is no disconnect between, for example, the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of Paul.

Pennington briefly walks us through reading Scripture in general well, reading it historically, literarily, and theologically, keeping these three avenues in balance. He provides some illuminating discussion on authorial intent and the ways that the Author behind the author can intend meaning that the human author may not have consciously been aware of. This explains how people can come away from a passage of Scripture with two different ideas that may be both biblical and accurate. In this way, God uses Scripture to speak to different people in the contexts that they are in. He also proposes that meaning is bound up with application because Scripture is meant to be lived out and to transform us. Some may not agree completely with his discussion concerning authorial intent, but he argues it well, I think he may be on to something.

Finally, the heart of the book is looking at the Gospels as stories about Jesus and taking a narrative approach to reading the gospels. Pennington covers basic story structure and reveals how meaning is discovered in the midst of a story, even revealing that a different meaning may be deduced from each character in the story. He also shows that the characters in the story have character traits that are meant to be imitated or rejected.

READING THE GOSPELS WISELY will help you to wrestle through how you read the Scriptures and what you’re trying to accomplish from studying them. It’s a great introduction to the gospels, and it will help you to read for transformation in the midst of growing deeper in your relationship with Jesus. It’s one of the most illuminating books I’ve read this year and one I’ll go to again and again.

Review copy provided by Baker Books

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