Review of McKelvey, Pioneer and Priest: Jesus Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews

Indisputably, “pioneer” (Heb 2:10; 12:2) and “priest”/“high priest” (2:17; 3:1; 4:14–15; 5:5–6, 10; 7:11, 15, 17, 21, 26; 8:1, 4; 9:11; 10:21) are key descriptions of Jesus in the letter to the Hebrews. In this brief volume (205 pp., including appendices) McKelvey sets out to trace their importance throughout the letter, examining them not as discrete concepts but as irrevocably intertwined. The result is a book that is somewhat difficult to classify genre-wise; sometimes it reads like a collection of short essays or lectures, other times like a commentary, and other times like a monograph. In the end, it serves rather like the photographs or drawings one finds at a “point of interest” along a path—telling you what you ought to be noticing at that particular moment in your journey, but saying little about how you are supposed to get from that point to the next one.Image

In terms of the main thesis of the book (the interconnectedness of “pioneer” and “priest” as central Christological motifs in Hebrews), McKelvey’s case is solid, if hardly revolutionary. He suggests that Roman Catholic interpreters have emphasized priesthood to the exclusion of Jesus’ pioneering work, and that Protestant scholars have done the reverse (xxiv), but time would fail me were I to list all of the exceptions to this supposed rule! McKelvey’s contribution is not primarily in the newness of his argument but in its synthesis of the material.[1]

Below I deal with two overarching issues: the content and argument of the book, and its usability as a textbook. The need for the second follows on my conclusion to the first; I do not think this book moves the scholarly conversation forward in any significant way, but I do think it could serve to bring up to speed those less familiar with that conversation.

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Review: Called To Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity by Gordon T. Smith

Smith - Called to be SaintsGordon T. Smith, Called To Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 256 pages.

Amazon | IVP

Thank you to IVP Academic for providing a review copy.

The title caught my attention — Called To Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity — and the description of the book reminded me of an institution to which I had recently been introduced, Ambrose University College of Calgary, Alberta. Then I discovered that it was written by Smith - faculty photothe president of Ambrose, Gordon T. Smith. Though the name of the school is relatively new (about 6 years), the school has a long history of training Canadians for Christian ministry and service, particularly those from Nazarene and Christian & Missionary Alliance denominations. Smith’s book reflects the deeply-cherished focus of these traditions on sanctification. Infused with wisdom and beautifully expressed, this is a book to be savored. Called to Be Saints is an invitation to discover Christian maturity “in Christ” — a maturity expressed in wisdom, work, love, and joy.

Chapter 1 offers an overview of the book in which Smith distinguishes Christian maturity from moralism and perfectionism, both of which impose “an impossible burden” apart from union with Christ. Maturity is also not a matter of human effort (pelagianism), but instead a “human response to the call and enabling of God” (22). True Christian maturity must be Trinitarian and Christocentric. It must take seriously the reality of God’s creation and God’s plan to restore all things. It must recognize the severity of sin. It must be expressed in community and in everyday activities. The experience of suffering plays a key role in shaping our maturity in Christ.

Chapter 2 addresses the heart of what it means to be a Christian, union with Christ. For Smith, “participation” —knowing, loving, and serving him — is the defining feature of the Christian life. Justification and sanctification are therefore intimately connected to each other. He defines the mature Christian as “one who lives in consciousness and intentional response to the presence of the Spirit” (52). We are “drawn into his life” by faith, that is, “radical trust in the person and work of Christ” (53). The result of this deep trust is humility. When we take “union with Christ” seriously, it transforms our concept of evangelism from teaching certain propositions that must be believed to inviting others to encounter Jesus and commune with him. Jesus, not the potential convert, is the focus. Continue reading

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Review: Covenantal Apologetics by Scott Oliphint

K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 288 pages.
I would like to thank Crossway for providing me a review copy.

Amazon | Crossway


OliphintScott Oliphint, professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, sets out what he calls “covenantal apologetics” in this book. “Covenantal apologetics” is another term for presuppositional or Van Tillian apologetics; Oliphint is quite explicit that he is not offering something new, but rather seeking to make Van Til’s thought more accessible to a broader audience. He refers to his task as “translating” Van Til’s thought into clear and accessible language, as well as translating Van Til’s meaning from philosophical contexts into more explicitly biblical and theological contexts (26). In conjunction with that purpose, he coins the term from which the book gets its title.

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Review: Enoch and the Gospel of Matthew by Amy E. Richter

Amy E. Richter. Enoch and the Gospel of Matthew. Princeton Theological Monograph Series. Eugene, Ore.: Pickwick, 2012. Viii + 234 pp. $27.

 Wipf and Stock / Amazon

PTMS_Template_newIn this work, a revision of a doctoral dissertation done under Deirdre Dempsey and Andrei Orlov at Marquette, Amy Richter argues for a very close connection between the gospel of Matthew and the Enochic literature. In chapter one, she sets forth her thesis that Matthew makes use of an “Enochic watcher’s template” in narrating his account of Jesus’ life and ministry (1).  This template is defined as “one of three groupings of elements found in early Jewish myths about the advent of evil in the world (the other two templates are the Adamic template and a Transitional template)” (2). The basic narrative of the template is as follows: angelic beings called “watchers” descend to earth, teach women magical arts and then have sexual relations with them, producing a race of giant offspring. These giants engage in violence and are punished by God, who later floods the earth to purge it of their corruption. Their immortal spirits, however, live on and from them arise demons that plague humanity (2). While she affirms that there is “little, if any, evidence of Matthew’s quoting material from 1 Enoch” and, thus, it is difficult to claim direct literary dependence, she argues that Matthew certainly alludes to material that is “Enochic” (3). Thus, Matthew was not only aware of this template but made use of it to show that Jesus brings about eschatological repair to the destruction brought by the watchers. In support of her argument, she focuses primarily on the genealogy and infancy narratives, arguing that the four annotations on the women in the genealogy as well as many aspects of Jesus’ birth (i.e. the dreams, the star and the magi) point to this template. Continue reading

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Review: Jesus is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels by Michael F. Bird

Michael F. Bird, Jesus is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 219 pages.

IVP Academic  / Amazon

While the mess2823ianic identity of Jesus is certainly not a new topic, ongoing advancements in New Testament scholarship continually offer fresh insights that inform and enrich the discussion. Michael Bird’s book, Jesus is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels, merges these new insights into the stream of the old without a hitch. As a follow-up to an earlier work, Are You the One Who is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, which focused on the historical Jesus’ messianic claims, this recent work zeroes in on the gospels themselves. The distinctive purpose of each individual evangelist in revealing Jesus’ as the Messiah is elucidated within each gospel’s narrative and theological framework.

The outline of Bird’s work is straightforward: in addition to the introduction and conclusion, the book consists of four chapters, covering in sequence Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In the introductory chapter, Bird begins his foray into the discussion with a basic yet crucial question: “When did Jesus become the Messiah?” Here, Bird presents the basic premise that underlies his work: Jesus’ self-understanding was that he was the Messiah, and he intentionally and clearly communicated this truth through his ministry. Standing against the flow of critical scholarship that denies this truth, he presents various viewpoints from that arena with his own correlating counter-arguments. He segues into his analysis of the four gospels by asserting that the messianic theme permeates each work and is central to its purpose and function, albeit each gospel writer elucidates this theme in his own unique way. Continue reading

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Call for papers: 2014 History of Christianity Conference, Edinburgh

This third annual, student-led postgraduate conference in Church History draws near, and its organizers have issued a call for papers from current doctoral students in Church History or Historical Theology.  Continue reading

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Review: Hermeneutics by Anthony Thiselton

Anthony Thiselton, Hermeneutics: An Introduction, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 424 pages.
I would like to thank Eerdmans for providing me a review copy.

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ThiseltonHermeneutics: An Introduction is Anthony Thiselton’s latest in a long and distinguished list of publications on hermeneutics. New Horizons in Hermeneutics is perhaps his most well-known work on the subject, though in 2006 he published an 800-page collection of articles and essays, and 2013 saw the publication of a festschrift in his honor, Horizons in Hermeneutics, and the proceedings of a conference in his honor, The Future of Biblical Interpretation. Thiselton is an ordained minister in the Church of England. He writes as a Christian scholar.


This book is billed as an “introduction,” but that is somewhat misleading. A better term is a “survey,” or, perhaps, an introduction to the history of hermeneutics and hermeneutical philosophy. The first three chapters function as a brief introduction to the subject: the first chapter discusses the “aim and scope” of hermeneutics, the second discusses the place of hermeneutics in different fields (e.g., philosophy and Biblical studies), and the third seeks to illustrate different hermeneutical approaches to the parables of Jesus. The following thirteen chapters discuss the hermeneutics of a particular time, starting with Judaism and the Greeks, and proceeding on through the NT, the early church, the Reformation, and into the modern period with postmodernism, liberation theology, feminist and womanist hermeneutics, and more. A few chapters give particular attention to an important individual (e.g., Bultmann and Ricoeur). Continue reading

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