Monday, July 21, 2014

Martin Luther: Life, Calling, Ministry, and Effect

By: Dwayne Spearman

Many people within the church today refer to themselves as Protestants in ignorance. They, like many who have come before them, have forgotten those who prepared the way. They have neglected the influence of those who made the hard decisions so that they will most likely never have to. The purpose for this study is to take a closer look at one man who dared to stand alone in the face of an institution that had declared him a heretic and sought his life in exchange. The life, calling, and ministry of Martin Luther had far-reaching effect on all those who would come after him, and fundamentally changed the face of Christianity forever.

Luther’s Life
Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Germany to Hans and Margarette Luder on November 10th in the year 1483.[1] It was also in this small town that he died sixty-three years later on February 18th, 1546.[2] There is no doubt that his sixty-three years upon this earth was destined to change the face of Christianity permanently.

His parents were peasants. Yet, his father was a copper miner who apparently had a head for business and eventually rose through the ranks to found several foundries.[3] Even with the business success of his family, by all accounts, Luther’s childhood was less than ideal as a result of his father’s severe treatment of him. Unfortunately, this abusive treatment translated over into other areas of his life such as school, and bouts with depression, anxiety, and fear that constantly plagued him throughout his adulthood.[4]

To make matters worse, his mother had a preoccupation with witches that also had an interesting effect on Luther.[5] While he spoke rarely of her, she obviously influenced his superstitious and enhanced views of the unseen world. He even once said that witches were responsible for spoiling milk, eggs, and butter.[6] He even believed that the maladies that he himself suffered where not natural but devil’s spells.[7]

Luther’s Calling
His father’s desire was that his son would become a lawyer. As such, he enrolled young Luther in the University of Erfurt in 1501 to pursue a degree in law.[8] However, something was to happen in young Luther’s life that would change everything. The story goes that on one particular day in the year 1505, Luther was caught in a thunderstorm that scared him so badly, that he made a vow to St. Anne that he would drop out of law school and dedicate his life to serving the Lord by becoming a monk if she would spare his life.[9] True to his word, on July 17, 1505, he left law school and joined a monastery of the Augustinian Order as a friar.[10]

Upon entering the monastery, Luther was almost immediately recognized for his academic abilities. As one author put it, his induction into monastic life did not nothing to “terminate his study, it merely redirected it into the pursuit to theology” instead of law.[11] Another author noted that he was “clearly academically competent” and had even placed second in his class of seventeen students.[12] As a result of the insistent encouragement of his order’s leadership, he entered the priesthood and was ordained on April 4, 1507 at the age of twenty-three.[13]

However, this is where Luther’s childhood that was filled with abuse and a dominating father came into play. He struggled with feelings of unworthiness of God’s love and lived in constant fear of judgment.[14] It reached the point in his life that good works and the sacrament of penance was just not enough because he felt that he was just too unworthy to be justified before a holy and a righteous God.[15] He even went on to punish his body through self-flagellation until he finally reached the conclusion that God was not a God of love, but one of hatred.[16] This went on until finally one of his superiors, decided that the best thing that Luther could do was to begin an academic career so that he would take his mind off of his “obsessive preoccupation with his inner life and he was immediately ordered to the University of Wittenberg to begin his studies.[17]

It was a Wittenberg that many of Luther’s questions were answered through the careful study of the Scriptures. This came about largely as a result of him being forced to study them for not only himself; but to teach them to others as well. It was during this time in his life that he came to so trust in the Scriptures that he once said of them “The Scriptures have never erred. The Scriptures cannot err. It is certain that Scripture would not contradict itself; it only appears so to the senseless and obdurate hypocrites.[18]

It was at this point in his life that his eyes were finally opened to the truth and he was able to see things that he had never seen before in regards to the Christ of Scripture. For example, in his lecture of the Psalms to his students, he found that if they were to be interpreted correctly, they must be done so Christologically.[19] It was this series of lectures that gave him for the first time the ability to see that Christ himself underwent similar trials to his own. It was a source of great comfort for him to know that Christ also suffered just as he had suffered in so many ways. Also, it was during this time that he came to understand that even though God the Father does indeed expect total perfection from His creation, it is God the Son who stands as the intermediary for his creation’s forgiveness.[20] This did much to remove the sense of guilt and unworthiness that Luther had carried with him practically his entire life.

This led to another series of lectures on the Epistle to the Romans in 1515 in which Luther exclaimed that he had finally found the solution to all of his difficulties.[21] Of course, it was not something that happened over night, but it was something that happened ever so slowly as he began to understand the truth of Romans 1:17 which simply says “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith.”[22]

It was not a simple matter as it is approached today. For him, the first part of the verse that says that the “righteousness of God is revealed” was extremely condemning in that he understood that the righteousness of God could only be satisfied first through the justice of God. At issue was the “juxtaposition of the righteousness of God and the righteousness of man.”[23] To Luther, that meant that the “just” mentioned in the verse had to have some sort of righteousness within them that was akin to the righteousness of God. [24] Of course, therein lay the problem, Luther knew that he was not able to obtain this necessary righteousness through penance and the sacraments of the church as he had tried to do for so many years.[25]

Great Discovery
The revelation, or what Luther referred to as the “great discovery of the gospel”, came when he realized that the righteousness spoken of in the verse does not refer to any standard that the Christian must obtain in order to be saved, but instead, is referring to the fact that God Himself had already provided the righteousness that is required for the believer that resulted in salvation as a free gift.[26]

This is the point in which Luther’s theology was developed in regards to the issue of justification or divine acceptance.[27] Simply stated, he had come to the conclusion in what he believed to be the guidance of the Holy Spirit that “personal transformation and renewal are the consequence and not the precondition of God’s love.”[28] This changed everything for him. His years of self-condemnation and loathing were finally over. He finally understood for the first time that “justification by faith” does not mean that what God demands of us is faith which he then dutifully rewards. Instead, it means that faith and the resultant justification that it brings are a free gift from God.[29] He was now firmly grounded in his famous doctrine of justification by faith which would serve as his banner from that point forward in his ministry.

Luther’s Ministry
From all appearances, Luther did not take his newfound understanding of the doctrine of “justification by faith” and attempt to overtly convert everyone around him to his way of thinking. Instead, he continued to give himself to his pastoral and teaching responsibilities at the university.[30] Some historians even speculate that he initially did not totally grasp the “radical contradiction” in what he had come to understand and the accepted penitential system that was widely taught and accepted by the church of his day. However, this passivity dissipated quickly once he was able to bring his colleagues at Wittenberg into his way of thinking through careful exposition of Scripture and quite persuasion.[31] This eventually led to the conviction by Luther that the traditional view must be challenged and corrected through debate.

His initial attempt to get the word out via an academic debate was a total failure. His preparation had been to merely write out ninety-seven thesis that he thought would generate an interest, but nothing happened. It fell upon deaf ears. Most have speculated that it was because he had written the theses in “the language of the academy” which was Latin and was more of an attempt to “attack the main tenants of scholastic theology.”[32] Of course, that did not appeal to the common man.

His second attempt is the one that he is famous for. In this attempt, he wrote another set of theses that he entitled Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. That was all it took, but with a little push from someone who took them and translated them from Latin into the language of the people, German. Little did Luther know that he had just done a frontal assault on the Church of Rome and their attempt to raise the funds necessary for the completion of the Basilica of Saint Peter.[33] This placed Luther squarely in the sights of Pope Leo X who is credited with being one of the worst popes during a time filled with “corrupt, avaricious, and indolent popes.”[34] Needless to say, he had aroused a very powerful enemy.

The end result was the exact opposite of what Luther had wanted in that his initial desire was to “establish the church once more upon the foundation of the gospel” and not to divide it.[35] He merely wanted to rid the church of their reliance upon human merit and good works. His discovery of the true gospel that did not include the need for penance and sacraments proved to be simply too much to hold the two together. He had sown the seeds that would rip the church as he knew it apart.

Even still, he chose to stay in the church that he had known and loved his entire life. The protests that he voiced were out of a heart felt responsibility that he had as a priest and theological professor.[36] His attempts were as one member to another. His desire was never to leave the church, but to right the church through proclamation and not separation.[37]

In truth, and as history contests, the papacy could not stand for such clarity. Therefore, after several warnings that went unheeded, Martin Luther was excommunicated from the very church that he had given his life to by Pope Leo X in 1520 in the Bull Exsurge Domine.[38] The Bull condemned forty-one of his beliefs as heretical, scandalous, false, offensive to pious ears, seductive of simple minds, repugnant to Catholic truth.[39] This was when Luther finally repudiated the pope and burned the Bull publicly.

Later the following year, he was given the opportunity to recant at the Diet of Worms. To the offer of recantation, his final words after laying out his defense was simply, “I stand convicted by the Scriptures, to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”[40] The break with Rome was complete.

Luther’s Effect
After the Diet of Worms and amid the chaos that ensued, Luther simply disappeared. Some thought for sure that he had already been killed for his actions. However, that was not the case, as that he had actually been granted safe passage by Frederick the Wise who had already taken steps to ensure his safety.[41] He did this by having him basically abducted and whisked away to Wartburg Castle where he was to stay for his own protection from May of 1521 to February of 1522.[42] While there, Luther did not waste his time in idleness. Instead, he used the time to begin his translation of the New Testament into German which he completed two years later, followed by the Old Testament that he completed ten years later.[43] Luther’s Bible, as it came to be called, proved to be instrumental in the reformation.

According to legend, it was also at Wartburg Castle that Luther had his famous confrontation with the Devil when he threw his inkwell at him. Of course, the legend was born when he said that he had “driven the devil away with ink.”[44] No one really knows for sure if Luther actually had a physical encounter with the Prince of Darkness, or if it was just a reference to the consequences of his new translation of the New Testament.

Meanwhile, others had taken up the cause while Luther was in exile. These included men like Andreas Karlstadt and Philipp Melanchthon who had been heavily influenced by the truth of Luther’s teachings while at Wittenberg. These men pushed for changes quickly in regards to encouraging monks and nuns to leave their monasteries and to be allowed to marry. Worship was simplified, German replaced Latin, masses for the dead were abolished, and the cup was given to the laity in communion.[45] Many of these things happened much quicker than Luther himself would have ever pushed for or even imagined. He actually voiced concerns, but the flood gates had already been opened and change, radical change in many respects, was already well on its way.

What came to be known as the Protestant Reformation changed the face of Christianity forever. Long after the deaths of Luther and the other great reformers, Protestantism has continued to evolve much farther than Luther himself would have ever imagined, or most likely even would have approved of. Of course, most Protestants would agree that God was behind the Reformation and that He was the one that gave Luther the wherewithal to stand in the face of tremendous opposition up to an institution that he had loved and devoted his life to, and yet declared him a heretic.

This present generation would do well to be mindful of the great sacrifices that were made by those like Luther who have gone before at cost to mind, body, and spirit. Protestants, and to a great degree, even Roman Catholics today owe a huge debt of gratitude to them. They made the difficult decisions that paved the way for future generations of Christians to walk. All would do well to be mindful of them.

Bettenson, Henry and Chris Maunder, eds. Documents of the Christian Church. 4th ed. London: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker House Books, 1998.

Evans, G.R. The Roots of the Reformation: Tradition, Emergence, and Rupture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity, Volume II, The Reformation to Present Day. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2010.

Luther, Martin. The Table-Talk, trans. William Hazlitt. Philadelphia, PA: United Lutheran Publishing House, 1846.

Marius, Richard. Martin Luther: The Christian Between God and Death. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

McGrath, Alister E. Christianities Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Reformation – A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2008.

McGrath, Alister E & Darren C. Marks, eds. The Blackwell Companion to Protestantism. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004 Pelikan, Jaroslav. Obedient Rebels: Catholic Substance and Protestant Principle in Luther’s Reformation. New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1964.

Shelley, Bruce L., Church History in Plain Language. 4th ed. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2008.

Monday, July 14, 2014

My Critique of "Christianity's Dangerous Idea"

Front Cover

Christianity’s Dangerous Idea was written by Alister McGrath. He currently holds the chair in theology, ministry, and education at the University of London. [1] Prior to that, he was a longtime professor at Oxford University. He has authored several books on the issues of theology and history and lectures all over the world and currently resides in Oxford, England.
His intent was to take a survey style look at the seeds that started what came to be known as the Protestant Reformation. To that end, he attempts to chronicle the events that led up to the actual break with the Church of Rome, the reformers themselves who played major roles in these events, the eventual global ramifications that followed, and attempts to take a brief look at the possible future of Protestantism.
Brief Summary
The book is divided into three main sections which he refers to as Origination, Manifestation, and Transformation. In the Origination section, he lays the background for what he calls the gathering storm. [2] He starts this section by addressing the corruption that had already permeated the medieval church. The papacy is viewed as being out of control by many and there were those who sought to rein it back who were part of the Conciliarist movement. [3] However, the movement, while bringing the issue to the forefront, ultimately failed.
However, the issue of corruption did not go away. If anything, it got worse. Appointments of senior clergy were no longer based on the will of God, but the influences of family, fortune, and power. [4] Even the lower clergy were viewed with contempt by the laity because of the illiteracy that was rife within their ranks. According to the author, this gradual deteriorating view was not the result of a dwindling spirituality within medieval Christianity, but to the contrary, it was the result of an increasing “popular interest in religion” at the time. [5]
The final issue dealt with in this section of import is the advent of humanism. The humanists as they were called were primarily engaged in bringing about renewal and reform to the church with a call to return to the original sources of the faith. [6] In short, it was a renewed interest to return the church to the “vitality and simplicity of the apostolic age”. [7]
In the Manifestation section of the book, he takes a look at the impact that the Bible has had on the Protestant movement. This includes a discussion on distinctive protestant beliefs, how they are organized in their various denominational structures, how they go about worship, and the ministry of preaching.
His intent is to show how the various groups that make up the whole of Protestantism have interpreted and applied the Scriptures in these areas. [8] Of course, he shows that each have arrived at similar, yet different conclusions. However, it’s the similarities that make up a body of beliefs that are distinctively Protestant. [9] These include justification by faith, the nature of the church, the sacraments, and the issue of predestination. He even takes a look at how Protestantism has impacted the arts and natural sciences.
In the Transformation section of the book, he looks at the rise of western powers, particularly that of the United States, and its consequences. He asserts that the rise brought “inspirational” as well as “deeply disturbing” changes that were “incalculable” to Protestantism. [10] This was the result of what he refers to as the globalization of Protestant ideas that originated in the United States, but were then re-appropriated, repackaged, and disseminated to the rest of the world. He also goes on to assert the intellectual lead that was for many years in Germany had now been passed to the United States. He concludes that the most significant event to happen during this time was the rise of Pentecostalism. [11]
Critical Interaction
The stated purpose of the author was to gather into one work a single, organized narrative for the origins and development of Protestantism. [12] His attempt was not so much to look at the small details of each and every person and event, but to find the “bigger picture” underlying them in an effort to find their significance for “understanding the past, present, and future trends” of Protestantism. [13]
The prevailing conviction of the author seems to have been that for his readers to understand and appreciate where the Protestant movement is today, they must first be able to understand and appreciate where it has been in the past. [14] Of course, the author realized that this was no small task, and in so doing, much historical information would have to be left out or handled with a “broad-brush”, which inevitably left much to the interpretation of the author. [15] Of course, this is where any author opens themselves up to criticism. History is history with facts, spaces, and places, but when one tries to interpret that history to make application to the present; it becomes subjective; let alone to attempt to forecast the future based on that interpretation.
There have been several book reviews that have critiqued how well the author did in this effort. One such positive review was written by Bryce Christiansen of The Booklist who refers to the work as “capricious” and “highly provocative”. [16] He interestingly notes McGrath did an excellent job of showing how quickly the reformers such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli took the doctrine of sola Scriptura and developed their own forms of church authority. He also concludes that anyone who cares about Christianity’s past and future should read the book.
There is no doubt that the Reformation had no sooner displaced the Roman Catholic Church and it’s suppressive policies when the reformers inadvertently set about to establish their own based on their individual interpretations of the Scriptures. They each appealed to the “same source as authoritative, and yet arrived at different conclusions (e.g., the Communion). [17] With the removal of what had been the only recognized authority for hundreds of years invested in the hierarchy of the Roman Church, that authority had now been invested in each and every believer as per the teachings of Luther and the “radical doctrine of the priesthood of all believers”. [18] The author did an excellent job of showing the conflict that quickly arose with seemingly no resolution except disagreement and division.
Another such reviewer is James Overbeck. In his opinion, the only real contribution of the book is that it does help to “describe the shift currently taking place in the Protestant world with the decline of churches in Europe and North America”, and the shift that is currently in place toward Africa and Asia. [19] He also takes shots at McGrath for equating Christianity with Protestantism to the exclusion of the Roman Catholics.
There is no doubt that the author wrote the book from the Protestant viewpoint. It’s obvious that he is a Protestant just based on the biographical data given on the cover of the book. As such, he wrote the majority of the time from the viewpoint of a Protestant observer to history. We all tend to write one sided on every issue and it can be very hard to not do so because it’s the side that we are on. For example, when describing any war of the past, each side has a different take on why it started, how it played out, and how it ended. We all have perspective. McGrath’s perspective was most definitely Protestant, and thus it is through that lens that he wrote. Ultimately, the he made a very straight forward historical presentation of how the Reformation took seed and how it spread throughout Europe and to the rest of the world.
In the end, the issue at hand for this reader is to understand how the information contained in Christianity’s Dangerous Idea impacts my own life, ministry, and church. In regards to my life, as a lover of history, I believe that if we don’t know it, and at least attempt to understand it, we are inevitably going to make the same mistakes. Just a cursory look at men such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli should prove to anyone that they were not perfect. They had their’ share of faults, but each of them can be learned from. For example, Luther constantly felt that he needed to “get in with God” and that he “had to make himself into a good person”, but he eventually learned that “God’s love is not conditional” and that personal transformation follows with an understanding of “divine acceptance”. [20]
In regards to my ministry, it was obvious that men and ministries go through hard times. All of the great reformers had their friends, and yet also had their enemies. Standing on the front lines of any fight will draw fire from both sides. To do great things for God requires taking a stand that will sometimes cost more than we ever thought that we were going to pay. Just the very thought should make the words of our Lord ever clearer when he said, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple”. [21]
Finally, in regards to the church, there is much to be gleaned. The one great take away for me personally is that the church belongs to Jesus Christ and not to man. It was his creation from the very beginning, and the men that he has graciously allowed to be a part of it are indeed sinful creatures. It doesn’t matter if they call themselves Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, or by any other name, because of their sinful natures, everything that they touch tends to come crumbling down around them and gone forever, except the church. With the church in view, Jesus said to Peter after he had questioned his disciples as to who men said that he was, “And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” [22] The church certainly has been through a lot of things and yet it has survived. It is not going anywhere until the Lord himself comes and gets it.
Christensen, Bryce. "Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution-A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First." The Booklist 104, no. 3 (2007): 22. Accessed June 16, 2014. (accessed June 16, 2014).

HarperCollins. “Discover Author Alister McGrath.” (accessed June 13, 2014).

McGrath, Alister E. Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Reformation – A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2008.

Overbeck, James A. “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution; A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First.” Library Journal 132, no. 13 (2007): 93. Accessed June 16, 2014.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Critique of "How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth"

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth

           How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is written by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart. Gordon Fee holds a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California and is Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia where he taught for sixteen years. He has also taught at Wheaton College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. His field of expertise is New Testament textual criticism. He has also authored other books including a textbook on New Testament interpretation and several commentaries that include on 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Galatians, 1 Corinthians and Philippians (
Douglas Stuart holds a Ph.D. from Yale Divinity School (Harvard University) and is currently professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts where he has taught since 1971. His field of expertise includes Biblical Interpretation, the Church, Old Testament studies, and Biblical Languages. He has also authored other books including Old Testament Exegesis and contributed to The Preacher’s Commentary, New American Commentary, Mastering the Old Testament, The Communicator’s Commentary, et al. (  
According to the authors, the purpose of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth is to show that a clear understanding of the Bible “isn’t only for the few, the gifted, and the scholarly” (Back Cover). Instead, it is meant to be read and understood by everyone from “armchair readers” to “seminary students”. Their point is that the Scriptures are accessible to anyone who is armed with the proper understanding and tools.
Fee and Stuart’s approach to this book is concerned mainly with the understanding of the ten different types of literature or genres that make up the Bible and how they are to be thusly to be interpreted (Loc. 205). They believe that it is imperative that the reader of the Bible understands that there are distinct differences between the genres (e.g., a psalm and an epistle) in the Bible and those differences determine not only how each genre is to be read, but also how each one is to be understood in the effort to achieve a proper interpretation that leads to application in the lives of modern believers (Loc. 223).
This starts with the task of exegesis which is the careful, systematic study of the Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning. They refer to this as the historical task. It is critical to the explanation or interpretation of a text, and is an effort to determine what the text originally meant (Loc. 376). The secret lies in the ability to ask the right questions about the text. Of course, these questions differ depending upon the genre of the text in question. There are essentially two questions that must be asked of any text: those that relate to historical and literary context and those that relate to content (Loc. 426).
Those questions that relate to historical context include: the time and culture of the author and his readers (i.e., geographical, topographical, and political factors that are relevant to the author’s setting and the occasion of the writing). For example, were they writing before the exile, during the exile, or after the exile? All of these factors are important in order to gain an accurate understanding of the text. This is also where the reader is going to have to employ the use of “outside help” and a good commentary comes into play (Loc. 442).
Fee and Stuart agree that the main question when it comes to relating to the literary context is simply, “What’s the point?” To figure this out, the reader must remember that “words only have meaning in sentences and that sentences only have clear meaning in relation to the preceding and the succeeding sentences” (Loc. 459).  The goal therefore is to understand what the author was thinking at the time of the writing and why. This information will help the reader to determine what the author is saying next and why.
Having dealt with the issue of context, Fee and Stuart say that the next issue to focus on is content. “Content” has to do with the meaning of the words, their grammatical relationships in the sentences, and the original text in which they were written (Loc. 475). For this, they assert that outside help is usually necessary; however there are tools that can be used by the reader which should minimize that need. These tools include: a good translation of the Scriptures, a good Bible dictionary, and good scholarly commentaries.
After the exegesis stage, the second task for the reader, in the Fee and Stuart’s narrower sense, is hermeneutics. However, they are adamant that this stage must only come after the exegesis stage to avoid “total subjectivity” (Loc. 492). To do so, only encourages improper interpretations that lead to such things as baptizing for the dead, the rejection of the deity of Christ, a prosperity gospel, snake handling, and the advocacy of the American dream as a right of all believers (Loc. 496). They contend that “proper hermeneutics begins with solid exegeses” as a point of control.
Of course, Fee and Stuart argue that all of this must be done while understanding that the Bible is God’s Word. Therefore, it is eternal in relevance, and speaks to all mankind in every age and in every culture (Loc. 341). However, because God chose to use human authors, each book is “conditioned by the language, time, and culture in which it was originally written (Loc. 341). Therein lies the challenge for the reader.  
            After discussing the issue of translations of the Bible and why every serious student of the Bible should have at least one copy of a formal equivalence translation (e.g., NASB, ESV, NRSV, etc.) and one functional equivalence translation (e.g., NIV, TNIV, NJB, etc.), Fee and Stuart move on to discuss the uniqueness of the epistles, Old Testament narratives, the book of Acts, the Gospels, the parables, the Law, the prophets, the Psalms, wisdom books, and the book of Revelation. While not exhaustive, they did a very good job of showing the reader how to interact with each of these genres.
            The first genre they dealt with is the epistles. The crucial thing to remember about the epistles is that they are mostly letters and thus have an “occasional” in nature. This means that they were written on a specific occasion in response to a specific question or problem. Thus, they are not necessarily theological treatises, but contain “task theology” or theology that is dealt with because of the task at hand (Loc. 992). The challenge for the reader is to try to determine not the answers to the questions that are already found in the letter, but to ascertain the questions or problems that had arisen that caused the letter to be written in the first place (Loc. 979). Therefore, determining historical context is paramount to the reader.
            To be honest, while I am in total agreement with the authors on this, I have never thought of the epistles in this way. However, it makes total sense that the writers would be addressing issues that were occasioned by either the reader’s side or the author’s (Loc. 979). Knowing that now, it is obviously crucial that much effort be placed into determining the occasion. These occasions could include behavioral issues, doctrinal disputes, and misunderstandings that needed to be clarified, etc. (Loc. 979). Obviously, these need to be discovered as closely as possible to arrive at an accurate interpretation.  
             The second genre dealt with was the Old Testament narratives. This is the most common type of literature in the Bible as that over forty percent of the Old Testament and this also includes the Gospels and the book of Acts in the New Testament (Loc. 1542). Their point is that narratives are stories of historical events in the past that are intended to give direction to those of us in the present (Loc. 1550). The caution that they offer is that these stories must not be seen as merely allegorical and are not intended to teach moral lessons (Loc. 1598). However, they do illustrate what is taught explicitly and categorically elsewhere in Scripture (Loc. 1610).
For my part, I’ve always struggled with what to do with prostitutes (e.g., Rahab) and lying midwives (Exodus 1:19) being blessed by God. However, as Fee and Stuart pointed out, the purpose of narratives is to show what God is doing in the redemptive history of Israel and not the moral failings of those in the text (Loc. 1815).
            The third genre is the book of Acts. Fee and Stuart felt that it was important to note that even though Acts is a narrative as are the Gospels, it should be treated differently because most Christians do not read it that way (Loc. 1884). Instead, they see it as a book that patterns Christian behavior in the church, and thus serves as the normative model for the church at all times (Loc. 1892). However, the danger with this is the risk of a “restoration” mentality that seeks to take the church back to the first century. The problem with this is that what happened in Acts is not necessarily normative for all times (Loc. 2096).
            I know of many churches that make it their aim to get “back to Acts”. However, after reading this section, I agree with Fee and Stuart that incidentals must not ever become primary unless Scripture explicitly says otherwise elsewhere (Loc. 2096). Therefore, it is not wise to establish a precedent based solely on the Acts narrative.    
            The fourth genre is the Gospels. The authors agree that when it comes to interpreting them, some problems are immediately evident. They believe that all of the difficulties encountered are the result of two things: Jesus was not the author of either and there are four of them (Loc. 2242). Thus, they lend themselves to probably more speculative scholarship than anywhere else in the New Testament.
            There is no doubt that I’ve heard some pretty farfetched things come out of some teachings from the Gospels. Much of it is precisely because they fail to realize the historical context (i.e., Jewish books, written to Jewish people, by Jewish writers, about a Jewish messiah). Far too many teachers fall into the trap of interpreting before proper exegesis. Thus, there is a misunderstanding and misapplication of context, Jesus’s use of hyperbole, and a proper understanding of the “kingdom of God” (Loc. 2590).
            The fifth genre is the parables. Fee and Stuart actually introduce this section by saying that much of the misinterpretation that occurs when dealing with the parables is because of what Jesus said in Mark 4:10-12, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand” (NKJV). This, of course, has led many (e.g., Augustine) to seek out hidden meanings rather than proper exegesis.
            I agree that even today, there is some pretty weird teaching out there based solely on the parables. I had a Bible College teacher tell us one time that one should be in the ministry at least twenty years before they even attempt to teach on the significance of the kingdom parables of Matthew 13. That being said, I do agree with the authors that to even come close to properly interpreting them, the teacher must determine the point of the story being told and the intended solicited response expected from the original hearers (Loc. 2724).
            The sixth genre is the Law. The authors felt the need to have a special section on the law because of its “covenantal nature” (Loc. 2894). Point being, the Law must be viewed as God’s gift to his people, the Jews, so that they can live in community with each other and with Him. However, we are not under the old covenant any longer. The church operates under the new covenant, and therefore, the Law is really not applicable unless specifically stated so in the New Testament (Loc. 2919).
            I found this section to be refreshing because so many today try to operate under the Old Testament covenant by avoiding certain foods, keeping certain days, etc., when it is so clearly not for the church age. I like how they further delineated how the church is no longer under obligation to keep the civic or the ritual aspects of the Law. However, the church does have an obligation to acknowledge certain aspects of the ethical law (Loc. 2983). 
            The seventh genre is the prophets. Fee and Stuart pointed out that more books of the Bible come under this heading than any other in the Bible (Loc. 3214). They are also quick to point out that they are among the most difficult books in the Scriptures to interpret and understand (Loc. 3227).
            They did a great job of pointing out that prophets are not to be seen as primarily predictors of future events, but their primary function is to speak for God to their contemporaries, therefore anything that they say must be seen in this light (Loc. 3239). I also have never heard them described as “covenant enforcement mediators” (Loc. 3264). Also, that their messages were unoriginal in that they were merely restating what God had already expressed to them in the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy (Loc. 3328).
            The eighth genre is the Psalms. The authors note that the Psalms are considerably difficult to interpret because of their distinctive nature (Loc. 3656). Unlike the rest of the Scriptures which communicate God’s Word to people, many of the Psalms communicate to God or about God. Therefore, they do not function to primarily teach doctrine or moral behavior. Instead, they serve to model how God’s people are to express joy, sorrow, success, failure, hope and regret (Loc. 3669).
            I like the fact that they pointed out that psalms are first and foremost poetry. Therefore, it is essential that the reader understand that they are intentionally emotive (i.e., meant to arose emotion). Therefore, we must be very careful not to fall into the trap of “overexegeses” (Loc. 3686). There is also a warning of the temptation to “decontextualize” which will inevitably lead to wrong conclusions (Loc. 3753). Its goes back to the old expression, “A text out of context is a pretext.”
            The ninth genre is the wisdom literature. Fee and Stuart show that the wisdom books include: Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, but also can include the Song of Songs (Loc. 4004). They go on to warn about the potential abuses that result from a misunderstanding of their purpose, which is to state a “brief and particular” expression of truth. Of course, this lends itself to a multitude of abuse because “the briefer a statement is, the less likely it is to be totally precise and universally applicable (Loc. 4127).
            I appreciate that the authors went on to list the many abuses that can result if proper exegesis does not occur when trying to interpret wisdom literature. This includes that people many times read these books only in “bits and pieces” and end up failing to grasp the overall message. Thus they end up with “snatches of wisdom” that are taken out of context (Loc. 4015). They go on to say that they may sound profound and even practical, but still out of context. I must admit that I have been guilty of this on many occasions and must be a little more careful in my approach to wisdom literature in the future.
            The tenth and final genre is the book of Revelation. The authors state that the majority of problems that the interpreter encounters in this book “stem from the symbols” and that it deals with future events, and at the same time, first century context (Loc. 4441). The book also relies heavily on the Old Testament because John cites from it over 250 times. Therefore, a thorough exegesis is crucial. Additionally, to compound the difficulty, the book blends three very distinct literary types with apocalypse, prophecy and letter (Loc. 4453). Unfortunately, the most pronounced is apocalypse, which as a literary form, does not even exist in our day.
            My take away on Fee and Stuart’s observations is that we must be very careful when dealing with this type of literature. Far too many are too tempted to lose sight of proper exegeses and jump straight to improper interpretation. A good rule that the authors offered that I appreciated is for the reader to use those images that are clearly interpreted by the author himself as the starting point for the other images in the text (Loc. 4541). That one point alone would clear up much of the wayward teaching that is around today in regards to this book!   
Personally, I found this to be one of the best books that I have ever read on this subject. Fee and Stuart did a marvelous job in taking a potentially very difficult subject and presenting it in such a way that not only the scholar and those in academia will be challenged, but also in such a way that the average lay person can pick it up and not drown.
Their approach was to simply take a look at each of the ten different types of literature that is contained in the Bible (i.e., the epistles, Old Testament narratives, the book of Acts, the Gospels, the parables, the Law, the prophets, the Psalms, wisdom books, and the book of Revelation) and to show how they are best interpreted in the light of the distinct genres that they represent. Their desire was that the reader would arrive at the best possible interpretation of the text that will not only enhance the life of the believer, but also advances the kingdom of God. This book is highly recommended for anyone who believes that God’s Word has eternal relevance, and speaks to all mankind in every age and in every culture (Loc. 341).