Book Review: Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today
by Sean Palmer blog, Redwood City, Calif.
20 March 2009
Mention the Book of Hebrews and many Christians start to yawn or even to nod. Mention commentaries, and they practically begin to snore. One would think, therefore, that a commentary on Hebrews would leave them out cold on the floor. In fact, this new book (due out for Pepperdine Bible Lectures in May) by Edward Fudge, my friend and former elder in Houston, is certain to waken the whole lot, and set their feet to dancing with joy! For at least three reasons.
First, it is all about Jesus. Edward sees the Book (it is really not an “Epistle”) of Hebrews as a sermon of encouragement to a group of unknown believers (who might or might not have been “Hebrews”) who, for a whole bunch of reasons were worn out, disheartened, and ready to walk away from their faith. To revive their spirits and renew their commitment, the unknown author re-tells the Story – the story of the Son of God who became a man, to make human men and women children of God. The whole book is focused on Jesus. We can never go wrong doing that.
Second, this is a “narrative” style commentary. Although the author covers every verse, the layout of the book is so arranged that it reads more like a novel than like a traditional commentary. There are 48 chapters, each covering a portion of the Scripture text. (The text is another story of its own! Rather than use a particular modern version and risk losing those who prefer a different one, Edward has created a new version of Hebrews just for this book which sounds almost like every modern standard English text but is exactly like none.) After the text portion at the top, each chapter has an intro section called “Why & Wherefore,” which relates this section to the big picture of the whole book. That is followed by “Unpacking the Text,” which goes into detail, but in narrative style with subheads to further enhance ease of reading.
Third, this is a “bridge” book. It bridges the gap that too often exists between the ivory-tower scholars and the Christian on the street, or even the preacher or teacher in the church. Edward worked from the Greek text of Hebrews but his book doesn’t have a single Greek word in it. He has about eight pages of bibliography including 80+ scholarly articles from theological journals, but talks in everyday language. For example, Hebrews 1 includes a cluster of Old Testament passages which the technical commentators call a “catena” or a “florilegium.” Edward refers to them as a “bouquet of Scriptures,” which is what that second word really means to begin with. With such bridges linking scholarship and simplicity, the reader gets the best of both worlds.
Although this book has not yet been released, the publisher already has 36 impressive endorsements from Bible scholars and church leaders in five countries and across the theological spectrum. This is particularly impressive, since Hebrews is highly controversial and different Christian “tribes” have strongly differing views about its meaning. Yet somehow, this book has gained endorsements from all over the map.
Methodist Bishop and author Will Willimon, for example, calls this “a strong, theologically-informed exposition that will be of especial help to preachers seeking to encourage contemporary believers.” Yet Simon Kistemaker, retired New Testament professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, says: “I heartily recommend this commentary which, written by a scholar for lay people, is balanced, clear and transparent.” The back cover includes seven endorsements (all 36 are found on the front pages) which, besides these two, include churches of Christ professor and well-known preacher David Fleer, Baptist professor and author David B. Capes, Pentecostal theologian Sarah Sumner, mainline Protestant scholar and former professor at Yale Divinity School David Bartlett, and my friend the well-known and much-read Brian McLaren. Talk about covering the waterfront!
Although the author sent me a copy of the manuscript, I am eager to get the book itself. Keep informed on its progress and grand arrival at Edward’s website, www.EdwardFudge.com .