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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Luke (R.T. France)

TITLE: Luke (Teach the Text Commentary Series)
AUTHOR: R. T. France
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013, (416 pages).

This book is the fourth (might be fifth?) book published under the "Teach the Text Commentary" series. It continues the very noble motive of wanting to use the best of biblical scholarship, and apply it to teaching and preaching that frequent preachers, pastors, or teachers can readily use. After a brief description of the nature of the commentary, the editors follow it up with a framework of how the commentary deals with each of the 64 pericopes that make up the gospel of Luke. Each pericope has a "Big Idea" that explains the primary theme. The "key themes" provide a bullet form list of meanings. The "Understanding the Text" is where the heavy lifting in terms of biblical theology comes in. It attempts to shed light on the contexts, the structure, the cultural backgrounds, followed by interpretive and theological insights. The "Teaching the Text" remains one of my favourites, which really makes the ancient texts come alive with modern applications. The "Illustrating the Text" is also a treasure chest of ideas for teachers and preachers who are constantly in search of stories, anecdotes, and illustrations to communicate the message.

France introduces the gospel writer of Luke by saying that at the writing of the gospel, Luke already has the book of Acts in mind. That is why Luke-Acts are often taken together as a package. The Luke is the medical doctor, the disciple who followed Jesus during Jesus' time on earth. At various parts of Acts, France notices the change of a "third person" to a "first person" in certain parts of Acts that shows readers that Luke was personally present during those times. Other times, scholars continue to debate whether Luke then was the only author at all. On Luke's relationship to the other gospels, France asserts that Luke is more than simply a re-iteration of Mark, as Luke has substantially more new material. He also argues that the gospel was probably written around AD 64/65, which makes it a "later" gospel compared to Mark, but also additional time to recall what had transpired since the death and resurrection of Christ.  There is a fascinating discussion on Luke as a "historian" just on the basis of Luke 1:1 where he talked about many others who have written other narratives. France calls Luke not just a historian or a chronicler of events, but a "man of the message," an "evangelist."

Once readers enter into the commentary proper, they will be greeted with an attractive "Big Idea" to invite readers to pay attention to the primary theme. I like the clear darkened background and the photos accompanying the passage. I appreciate the printing of the biblical text in italics first, before the commentaries. It allows readers to remember that when in doubt, the Bible passage remains supreme. When looking at the "interpretive insights," readers need to remember that they are just an opinion, not the defacto standard interpretation. Those who desire a wider variety of views and interpretations will need to consult other commentaries. That said, the insights given are fairly decent, and will probably not create too many controversies. After all, it is geared toward teaching laypersons, and laypersons will most likely not have the time to tackle the many difficult nuances and scholarship that often comes with increasing theological complexity.

Let me offer three reasons why pastors, teachers, preachers, professors, or anyone in the ministry of teaching and preaching should buy this book. Firstly, this book is a succinct summary of the key ideas in the gospel. One of the most important skills for any teacher is to be able to summarize, summarize, and summarize whatever they are teaching. It is like the standard 3-point method of public speaking. First, tell the audience what you are planning to say. Second, say it. Third, tell the audience again what you have said. Likewise, the summaries enable the speaker to let the big idea remain as the big idea.

Second, most Bible teachers walk a fine balance between reverence for the texts and relevance to the people. It is often not an easy thing to do. On one extreme, spending an incredible amount of time to dig into the details of the texts may seem like faithful scholarship, but what then is the point if hearers do not understand the technical jargon or complexities in theological arguments? On the other extreme, one can tell great stories but be totally off the mark when it comes to understanding what the Bible passage is saying. This book is a wonderful example of balancing the two.

Thirdly, the illustrations are conveniently placed and are ready resources to be used. I appreciate the variety of examples that range from personal stories to testimonies of famous persons; from biographies to movies; from books to movements; from stories in print to stories in life. Having said that, I feel that all preachers and teachers need to try their best to use their own stories and illustrations first. When only after all are exhausted, then use the ones in this book.

Excellent resource!

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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