Thomas Oden, 1979, Agenda for Theology, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 176 pages.

After five years of soul searching Oden rejected liberalism and embraced the precepts of evangelical conservatism. Oden lays down his reasons for becoming disenchanted with mainstream liberalism through the examination of where he has been in his own walk with the Lord. He presents a convincing agenda for theology which is the rediscovery of the teachings and precepts of the ancient church and the theologian's task to boil theology down to the pastoral office. Oden argues that it is the teaching office of the church which is the thumbtack, or linchpin, which holds the entire discipline of theology to those it hopes to serve. The importance of this office and the duties it is to perform needs to be rediscovered, he maintains, and the biblical role of the pastorate needs to recover its soul and spirit within the biblical precepts of its origin.
This book is a good read for anybody who wants to understand the collapse of modernism, the emergence of postmodernism, and the role that theology and theologians are supposed to fill within the church.


Thomas Oden, 1983, Pastoral Theology, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 372 pages.

Oden begins following through with his agenda for theologian's office first laid down in his book, Agenda for Theology (now published under the title, After Moderny, What?) by providing biblically oriented resources for the pastoral office. Oden unpacks the role of the pastoral office that it holds within the church by distilling the best ideas of the two millennia of ecumenical Christian thinking concerning what pastors are and do. Pastoral Theology provides the foundational building blocks of the pastoral office essential to the practice of ministry. Oden's book is primarily geared for those who are interested or planning on entering the pastoral office. This book is also an informative resource for those interested in understanding what the clergy do and what pastoral care encompasses.


Jessie Penn-Lewis, 1996, War on the Saints, New Kensington: Whitaker House, abridged, 324 pages.

Lewis' work has stood as the standard by which all other books on spiritual warfare are judged for the past 100 years. Although written as an introduction to the concept of spiritual warfare, this book is a valuable resource for those involved in deliverance ministries. It is broad enough in scope to cover nearly everything a Christian is liable to run into. Though I personally cannot agree with everything it presents, the only real weaknesses of this work is it failure to stress that most spiritual battles aren't "out there," but are really inward struggles, or "in here," and the book's reliance of self effort in overcoming a variety of attacks. The book gives an excellent description of the variety of Satan's methods of attacks.


Richard Taylor, 1983, Beacon Dictionary of Theology, Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 660 pages.

Although Reformed theologians contribute, this is the only Wesleyan dictionary of theology that I am aware of. One hundred fifty three theologians cover nine hundred and fifty four articles on biblical theology written primarily from a Wesleyan perspective. Subjects covered range from the significance of foot washing to the tampering with genetics and technical descriptions of movements, systems of thought, and theological terms. This is easily the best single volume pastoral desk reference on theology available. All the articles are written from a conservative evangelical perspective.


Henry Sheldon, 1895, The Early Church, History of the Church, vol. 1, New York: Thomas Crowell and Co., 619 pages.

Beginning with the sphere of events and collision of cultures into which Christ stepped, Sheldon writes of the history of the church up to about 590 A.D. writing with some depth on subjects such as early theology and heresy, church discipline, corporate worship, church state relationships. Overall the book reads easily. The current failing of the work is that primary references given are difficult, though not impossible, to find.


John MacArthur, Jr., 1995, Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, London: Word Publishing, 439 pages.

John MacArthur and company lay down the foundation for the pastoral office covering the biblical requirements and duties the office is to perform. The book offers examples of pastoral theology throughout (many of which made it into my notes) and is written in a non-technical fashion. The book, as with Oden's Pastoral Theology, is geared for those who are looking to enter the teaching office. Of importance is a chapter devoted to scaring off those who are not truly called to fulfill the teaching office. This I truly feel is of great importance and something which another book, Biblical Eldership (Alexander Strauch, 1995), also dwells upon but Oden's Pastoral Theology fails to drive home with enthusiasm. Unfortunately Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry does not dwell long upon the idea that a good pastor can do, or teach, good theology (as contrasted with simple doctrine) which Oden's book spends time upon (pp. 141-152). Rather, MacArthur's work centers more upon practical matters of the pastoral office. This is not to say that the idea of pastors doing good theology isn't presented in this book, but that a chapter isn't devoted to the idea. Of special interest is a chapter on worshipping, which frankly, is the best I've read in a concentrated study.
Although MacArthur holds to Reformed theology, there was only one instance within this work were this came to the forefront and drove his conclusions (p. 92, re: grace extended to children based upon parents beliefs). Overall MacArthur strikes me a sincere and compassionate minister who deeply cares for the direction of the church and those who shall lead it in the future and I would recommend this book to any Christian seeking to learn more about the office of elder/pastor.


Clinton E. Arnold, ed., 2002, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (4 volumes), Gand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000 plus pages

All four books are hardcover and smith bound, measuring 8" x10". The set is a background commentary for the New Testament and includes many, many color pictures, maps, and charts (on every page there is something). Further the set is littered with interesting sidebars which are set as text boxes in the margins or as boxes set within the text. The set is written from an evangelical perspective.

Overall the set appears to be well done. Each Gospel or epistle covered has an introductory historical survey of the culture that the Gospel or epistle was written in as well as the specifics of the local customs or issues that are addressed within the Gospel or epistle.

The commentary then proceeds to address the historical-culture issues that each verse has as a backdrop. For example in the third volume the introduction to the Epistle to the Romans contains,

Understanding Paul's own situation as he writes Romans helps us appreciate the purpose and theme of the letter. In 15:14-22, he looks at a period of ministry just concluded. "From Jerusalem all the way around Illyricum," Paul tells us, "I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ" (15:19). This verse indicates that Paul's ministry has reached a significant geographical turning point. As Luke tells us in Acts, Paul first preached Christ in Damascus (and perhaps Arabia) after his conversion (Acts 9:19-22; cf. Gal. 1:17). Only after three years did he go to Jerusalem to preach, and then only briefly (Gal. 1:18; cf. Acts 9:28-29). Why, then, mention Jerusalem as the starting point for his ministry? For two reasons. First, the city represents the center of Judaism, and Paul is concerned to show how the gospel spread from the Jews to the Gentiles. Second, the city stands at one geographic extremity in his missionary travels. At the other extremity is Illyricum, the Roman province occupying what is today Albania and parts of Yugoslavia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Only here does Paul refer to missionary work in this province, although such a ministry can be fit easily into the movements of Paul on his third missionary journey (see comments on Rom. 15:19). An "arc" drawn from Jerusalem to Illyricum, therefore, passes over, or nearby, the important churches that Paul has planted in south Galatia (Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Iconium, Derbe), Asia (Ephesus), Macedonia (Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea), and Achaia (Corinth).

But what does Paul mean when he claims that he has "fully proclaimed" the gospel in these areas? The Greek has simply the equivalent of our verb "fulfill" (peplerokenai). To "fulfill" the gospel, therefore, probably means to preach it sufficiently such that viable churches are established. These churches can then carry on the task of evangelism in their own territories while Paul moves on to plant new churches in virgin gospel territory (cf. 15:20-21).

In pursuit of this calling, Paul is moving on to Spain (15:24). On the way, he hopes to stop off at Rome, evidently to enlist the Roman Christians' support for his new gospel outreach (see comments on 15:24). but before he can begin his trip to the western Mediterranean, he must first return to Jerusalem (15:25). Throughout the third missionary journey, Paul has collected money from the Gentile churches he planted to bring back to the impoverished Jerusalem believers. Now he is ready to embark on this trip, and he earnestly asks the Roman Christians to pray for it (15:30-33). The collection represents for Paul a key step in what he hopes will be the reconciliation of the Jewish and Gentile Christians in the early church (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, vol. 3, pp. 3-5).

An example of the commentary itself from 2 Cor. 11:14:

Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light (11:14). In some Jewish traditions, Satan transformed himself into an angel of light and deceived Eve a second time:

Then Satan was angry and transformed himself into the brightness of angels and went away to the Tigris River to Eve and found her weeping. And the devil himself, as if to grieve with her began to weep and said to her, "Step out of the river and cry no more...come out to the water and I will lead you to the place where your food has been prepared."

Largely this set appears to be written as a tool for working pastors. It's tone is conversational and does not appeal to excessive use of jargon. It provides all kinds of references and antidotal information which would be useful for sermon illustrations and story-telling. In addition, contemporary source material is referenced as well as recommended reading should a topic peak the readers interest to the point where they wish to more fully explore it. While Zondervan's Backgrounds Commentary is not a scholarly reference, it is obviously aimed at the pastor or church leader who wants to go beyond the basics of a working knowledge of the Bible, yet who also wants a reference that doesn't take a week of reading to get at the stuff that they will eventually wind up presenting in a sermon or Bible study.

A caveat I do have offhand is that the footnotes appear as endnotes at the end of each Gospel or epistle. Stylistically I can understand why this was done as footnotes would break up the overall flow of the work presented; however for footnote geeks this does involve the "Sears Roebuck" method of getting at them.

So far I've read through the background on the Epistles to the Romans and Ephesians and found them both helpful.

The set cost $95.00 from CBD with the prefered customer discount.


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