About This Blog

Friday, August 28, 2015

"The Message of the General Epistles in the History of Redemption" (Brandon D. Crowe)

TITLE: The Message of the General Epistles in the History of Redemption: Wisdom from James, Peter, John, and Jude
AUTHOR: Brandon D. Crowe
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 2015, (240 pages).

Many people study the New Testament more than the Old Testament. They regularly go through the gospels. They like the theological depth in the Pauline epistles. They appreciate the story of the Early Church in Acts. They even talk a lot about the end times in Revelation. Relatively speaking, the general epistles are not studied as much. Sometimes called the "catholic epistles," these letters are noted for being addressed to a general audience rather than a specific one like Paul to the Romans, Corinthians, or Ephesians. Four apostles wrote the seven general epistles. Each of them carry common themes with unique emphases. According to Brandon Crowe, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), the General Epistles are more relevant to us today than most of us would have thought. It calls us toward holiness. It urges us to hold fast to the importance of doctrine. It affirms the moral behaviour so essential in a world that seems to throw the baby of morality out with the bathwater of undesirable religion. The General Epistles confront challenges head on without lengthy treatises. Crowe claims that there are difficult parts of the letters that make it particularly difficult to study. James's teachings on works and faith created lots of disagreements among theologians on whether the letter ought to be in the canon or not. 1 Peter 3:19-20 contains a mysterious revelation of Christ preaching to the spirits in prison. John points out the strange argument that if we are in Christ, we cannot sin. How is it that we will not sin? Another common theme is salvation and redemption in Christ.  If the gospel is distorted, redemption is also distorted. That is why many of these letters attack the heresies and false prophets. Using an "indicative-imperative" structure to explain the relevance of these letters, Crowe states simply that the "indicative" deals with the saving work of Christ while the "imperative" details what we need to do as a result of being redeemed. More importantly, the indicative must come first, followed by the imperative. Moreover, both the indicative and the imperative must be held together, just like theory and practice must work together. The way the author deals with each of the General Epistles is interesting. Crowe uses the alliterative terms: Scallywags, Scoffers, and Schisms to organize the book.

Scallywags is about how the world views Christians as according to 1 Peter. Amid the accusations of the world, Christians are exhorted to do the right thing, in accordance to the truths of the gospel. The audience have been displaced from their homes and exiled to the foreign lands and strange cultures. Readers are treated to an initial string of theological underpinnings before exhortations for Christian living in our modern world. He uses 1 Peter to compare and contrast the exile experience of the believers with those in the Old Testament. Key to understanding salvation is how Jesus conquered the forces of darkness and the power of sin. Jesus is the true King. He is the Messiah. Having the hope of Jesus as Saviour and Lord encourages believers going through the trials and tribulations. Exiles are persecuted because of their conviction of true faith. The elected are redeemed. Salvation comes from God in Three Persons. God the Father has the foreknowledge; the Holy Spirit sanctifies; Jesus' blood cleanses. There are theological themes about the People of God; the priesthood of believers; Christ's suffering and future glory; and many more. The redemptive part is that while believers are "scallywags" to the world, they are beloved of God. Redeemed people will live holy lives.

Scoffers distort Scripture, which are issues dealt with in 2 Peter and Jude. Believers are called to be holy and to stand firm in the truth. Redemptive themes from 2 Peter include how believers are partakers of the Divine; how in Jesus we have been saved; and the importance of looking forward to the Return of Christ. We can "scuffle the scoffers" by recognizing the characteristics of the scoffers; distinguishing the wolves among the sheep. In Jude, we learn how to remain in God's love while avoiding the errors of heresy. We are people called to repentance, and our response is a work of God. We are people who are beloved of God and this identity assures us that we belong to God. We are people kept for Jesus till He comes again. Along the way, Crowe shows us the "seven warnings of destruction" in 1) the Exodus passage where unbelievers choose to resist God; 2) the sins of angels; 3) the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah; 4) sin of Balaam leading others astray; 5) sin of Korah who mutinied against Moses and Aaron; 6) sins of Cain; 7) The prophecy of Enoch. He leaves the optimistic part toward the end, where he then shows us how to live in the light of false prophets and heretic teachings, that these are signs of the last days, and that we must persevere in hanging on to the truth.

Schisms are used to understand 1-3 John where love is the overarching theme with Christ as the centrality of all. The Incarnation of Christ is the reality of Christ coming to earth, where the early disciples have seen and heard, interacted with and touched. The ministry of Jesus is full of love, mercy, and justice. Christ's death on the Cross shows us the ultimate form of love. Yet there are people who deserted the disciples. Schisms occur when some like Demas loved the world and forsook the disciples. Sin is ever present. Heresies too. Redemptive teachings come across in four ways: 1) The Work of Christ (Atonement); 2) The Promises of God; 3) Evidence of Salvation in a Christian's lifestyle; 4) The Holy Spirit at work.

On James, Crowe moves away from the S alliteration toward Wisdom. The author is convinced that these letters deal substantially with the topic of salvation. We are saved by the Word of God in Jesus. It is a gift. We are saved through faith in Jesus. As a result, we are doers of the Word and good works. We are free in Christ. We are justified. Crowe then contrasts wisdom with temptation, with worldly favouritism, and with human wisdom. The difficult texts are dealt with at the end of the book.

So What?
This is no ordinary commentary. It is a broad commentary that begins with redemption in Christ. It rides upon the high promises of God and at the same time, wary of the sins and temptations that lurk up close and personal. The use of scallywags, scoffers, and schisms, are nice pedagogical tools to help readers understand the general orientation of the general letters. Instead of a verse by verse format, Crowe prefers a thematic format, going deep into the letter from the lens of redemption. It is a creative way of studying the epistles of John, Jude, James, and Peter. I like it for three reasons.

First, it brings about a whole new appreciation of the general epistles, relatively unpopular compared to the other New Testament books. There is a lot of material and theological themes we can glean from the letters. This commentary gives us an additional resource to dig, to discuss, and to be discipled. Second, the indicative-imperative structure is a very helpful hermeneutical tool. By indicative, we learn about the original contexts. In the imperative, we are armed with what to do. Together, they give us a good handle to study and to apply. Third, the book reminds us of what faith is really about. For Christ came to save sinners, and in the process died for us. This message must never be diminished. In fact, it should always be magnified, expanded, and lifted up for all to see. This book helps us do exactly that.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

No comments:

Post a Comment