Reflections on Reading

I have always enjoyed keeping up with what other people are reading. One of the redeeming qualities about social media is that new books find you through friends and acquaintances as they talk about them. In years past I would share a picture of my favorite reads from that particular year on social media. This year I have decided to write brief reflections on each book I completed. I hope you enjoy!


1.) Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham. Confession: I read a vast majority of this biography in December of 2018, but I finished it in 2019. Meacham delivers everything you would want in a biography. It is based on sound research, well written, and informative. When readers reach the final page they will certainly concur with President Obama’s remarks that George H. W. Bush was “one of our most underrated Presidents.”

2.) Frederick Douglass: A Prophet of Freedom by David Blight. This was an early Christmas gift purchased while visiting the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. The story of Frederick Douglass is truly fascinating. Douglass, who is often cited on social media to support a whole host of issues, was a much more complicated figure than social media allows. Various parts of his own life betray some tweets that hope to claim him. I can’t well represent the breadth of research and writing in one paragraph, but Blight’s book is informative as it is moving and I highly recommend it.

3.) The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson. A breath of fresh air. Peterson wants pastors to be unbusy, subversive, and apocalyptic. He reminds pastors they are not God, but are called to minister the Word and Sacraments to the people of God. His instructions on prayer, small-talk, and poetry are challenging and edifying. This was my introduction to Peterson, but it certainly won’t be the last time I read him.

4.) The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine. This book wrecked me and I haven’t quite recovered. Every seminary student should be required to read it.

5.) The Preacher’s Catechism by Lewis Allen. I read this book slowly at a chapter a day beginning in late 2018 and finishing it in early 2019. Based on the questions of the Westminster Catechism, Allen has given pastors a catechesis for pastoral ministry. I have already gifted it to other pastors and will do so for years to come.

6.) The Gospel-Driven Church by Jared Wilson. If I could somehow get every member of my church to read one book, this might be the one. Wilson reframes the church growth conversation around the gospel and encourages pastors to prayerfully labor for healthy growth that can only come from God’s work in the gospel. It is written with humility and a pastoral heart. The major strength of this book is that it is not merely theoretical. Often books will give you a gospel vision for ministry and never tell you how to move forward. Wilson offers his vision of a gospel-driven church and then offers an abundance of helpful counsel for how to lead with humility and navigate change. I highly recommend this book to anyone in ministry.

7.) The Greatest Fight in the World by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Spurgeon is never dull and always edifying. He encourages pastors to remember their armoury (The Bible), their army (the church), and their strength (Holy Spirit).

8.) The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism by Carl F. H. Henry. Although published 72 years ago it is as relevant as ever. Evangelicals would do well to turn to Henry again in this “just preach the gospel” moment.

9.) Secular Sacraments by Dustin Messer. Each essay in this collection is clear and thoughtful. Some are hilarious. All are honoring to Christ. Buy a copy and let Dustin show you how to engage culture with a Biblical worldview.

10.) The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson. I read this the week I taught on the love of God during our Attributes of God series. God’s love is certainly a difficult doctrine and this a delightful exposition of it.

11.) A Theology of Mark by Hans Bayer. An excellent treatment of the biblical and theological themes of the Gospel According to Mark. Bayer’s explanation of Christian discipleship is challenging, but encouraging. His exposition of Mark 8:34 is well worth the price of the book.

12.) Mere Calvinism by Jim Orrick. Mere Calvinism accomplishes its goal of introducing the doctrines of grace to a popular audience. Orrick writes with a pastoral heart and he is sure to edify readers.

13.) Growing Up by Robby Gallaty. Offers a helpful model for cultivating a culture of discipleship. It is not a perfect book, but it is a helpful book for mobilizing people who might otherwise be intimidated by discipling another person. There are really useful appendices and we’ve already seen a benefit at Hermon after applying some of Gallaty’s ideas.

14). A Peculiar Glory by John Piper. This is perhaps my favorite book by John Piper and that is saying a lot. He begins with some introductory matters on the cannon, transmission, and translation but he then moves on to a robust treatment of the doctrine of Scripture. I agree with John Frame, “Perhaps only John Piper could have written this book, and I’m delighted that he has done so.” I can’t imagine someone finishing this book not having grown in their love for the Bible.

15.) In Search of the Common Good by Jake Meador. In his first book Meador gives us a thoughtful diagnosis of our fractured communities and offers hope for Christians living in society. Meador teaches members of the city of God to seek the common good while living in the city of man.

16.) The Pastor and Counseling by Jeremy Pierre and Deepak Reju. A helpful apologetic for why pastors need to be counseling the flock of God. The authors provide practical guidance on everything from scheduling to note taking to homework for the counselee.

17.) An Approach to Extended Scripture Memorization by Andrew M. Davis. This booklet is a game changer. It is has significantly impacted my spiritual formation and I now give it to all our new members at Hermon.

18.) Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals by Gavin Ortlund. This book is excellent and easily one of my favorite reads of the year. I said a lot about this book in a previous post, so let me just say here that I highly recommend it.

19.) The Care of Souls by Harold Senkbeil. It is hard to put into words how much this book meant to me this year. I will return to it again and again as I hope develop my pastoral habitus. In a space filled with books on how to be the next church growth guru with a billion twitter followers, Senkbeil gives us a vision of the pastoral life focused on the ministry of the Word and the Ordinances. To use his words, we are merely sheep-dogs for the Chief-Shepherd.

20.) On the Unity of Christ by Cyril of Alexandria. Excellent. Cyril tackles a number of questions about Christ’s incarnation with biblical and theological fidelity, exposing the Nestorian error for what it is: heresy. It should also be said that the Popular Patristic edition includes an informative and well written introduction by John A. McGurkin. I wish I would have read it years ago.

21.) What Christians Ought to Believe by Michael Bird. This is an excellent introduction to the Christian faith through the Apostles’ Creed. As always, Bird writes with wit and humor without sacrificing substance. I imagine using it for discipleship directly and indirectly throughout my ministry

22.) Affirming the Apostles’ Creed by J.I. Packer. A helpful commentary on the Apostles’ Creed by one of most thoughtful and influential theologians in evangelicalism, J.I. Packer. At times Dr. Packer’s book reads more like a book on reformation theology than a commentary on a creed given to the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Nevertheless, Packer is always worth reading and this is no exception.

23.) The Apostles’ Creed by R. Albert Mohler. A very well written book. The strengths of this book are its introduction and conclusion. At times Mohler falls into the same trap Dr. Packer does. His neglect to give the descent clause a fuller treatment is disappointing. But as I said of J.I Packer, Dr. Mohler is always worth reading and this is no exception. The closing pages of this books nearly made me cry. What a privilege it is to stand and confess this great tradition.

24.) The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to Ancient Catechism by Ben Myers. This a true commentary on the Apostles’ Creed. The new Lexham series in which this book is a part is beautifully done.

Commentaries

I am including the commentaries I read cover to cover as I preached through the Gospel of Mark.

25.) Mark (BECNT) by Robert Stein. Good. Stein is overly dismissive of OT allusions and echoes, but all in all this is a treasure of research and information.

26.) A Gospel of Mark (NIGTC) by R.T. France. The single best commentary on the Gospel of Mark in print.

27.) The Gospel According to Mark (PNTC) by James Edwards. This is a really great commentary on Mark. Edwards isn’t allergic to OT allusions and echoes, does good biblical and theological interpretation, and includes helpful excursus on difficult passages and special themes.

28.) Exalting Jesus in Mark (CCE) by Danny Akin. A great homiletical commentary with helpful application.

Tolle Lege!

The Perils of Theological Retrieval in Pastoral Ministry

Normally I am years behind on reading new books, but I purchased Gavin Ortlund’s book, Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals the moment Amazon would allow. I did so because of my own personal theological journey. A few years ago I came to realize that even as a Bible College and Seminary graduate I lacked an adequate appreciation for my own Christian tradition. In school I read a lot about church history, but not a lot of the Christian writings that are a part of that history.

So I made it a goal to read many of the theologians I only read about in school. My ignorance is not the fault of my alma maters. I went to wonderful schools and had wonderful teachers. I didn’t deserve their time and kindness. I am simply noting that curriculum restraints and my own shortsighted priorities kept me from first hand knowledge of my own Christian Tradition.

This survey of church history made me aware there was a rich treasure of theological reflection in my family, but that I was largely ignorant of it. This combined with my own experience in non-liturgical congregations left me yearning for “rootedness.” Ortlund describes this feeling well when he writes,

“Particularly among the younger generation of evangelicals today, there seems to be a profound sense of emptiness and dislocatedness and consequent malaise. We are aching for the ancient and the august, for transcendence and tradition, for that which has stability and solidarity and substance. And many of us simply aren’t finding that in our evangelical churches and institutions.” (52)

My interest in theological retrieval grew as I began collecting and reading some of the popular patristic volumes and following the content from sites like Center of Baptist Renewal and the Center for Ancient Christian Studies. But it is one thing to be interested in retrieval. It is another to know how to rightly pursue it. This is why I am so grateful for Ortlund’s book.

Pastors who grow in their understanding of biblical, historical, and systematic theology often want to share that knowledge with others. There is nothing wrong with this. It is ok to be excited about theological retrieval. It is ok to be passionate about giving your flock a firmer grasp on their own Christian history. It is natural to want to share what we are excited about with the ones we love.

The problem is that most pastors are not specialists. I understand that there some who’ve specialized and have earned a PhD, but generally speaking most pastors are not trained historians or biblical scholars. Most pastors are generalists who are striving to be faithful shepherds. Pastors interested in retrieval can become passionate and zealous to teach the church that, “one of the greatest resources for navigating her present challenges is her very past–indeed, her entire past.” (20) Yet zeal and passion not checked with diligent attention to detail can lead to misrepresentation.

This is why I am so thankful that Dr. Ortlund provided the “perils of retrieval” section in his new book. Although these perils are addressed to all who will read his book, I am especially grateful for how this section offers warnings to me as a non-specialist.

The Perils of Retrieval

Here are direct quotes from Ortlund:

1.) “…we must be weary of the danger of distortion, in which we move too quickly to the present issue without sufficiently “doing our homework,” such that the historical resource being retrieved is somewhat caricatured or misconstrued . To the extent that our retrieval of the past is motivated to confirm present opinion or advance a polemical purpose, we may be especially in the way of this danger.” (73)

2.) “A second danger is artificiality, in which past resources are pressed into the service of present needs in a way that is forced or inauthentic.” (73)

3.) “…repristination, in which retrieval becomes merely a way of exercise in restating the past, under the impression that classical sources represent some kind of grand, immovable, final verdict on all matters they address.” Ortlund also says, “If in our efforts at retrieval we never or rarely find ourselves in disagreement with the resources we engage, we must be especially on the alert to whether we have fallen into this danger.” (74)

4.) “A final danger is minimalism, in which all the difficult or cacophonous elements of the past resources are flattened out in the search for a common denominator of unity.” (75)

There are many reasons why you should buy and read Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals, but this brief section speaks to the care and thoughtfulness with which Ortlund wrote. More than encouraging his readers to engage with patristic and medieval theology, Ortlund shows us how to do so. You may not need those warnings, but I do and I’m grateful for them.

Although I think he misses his audience here and there (some chapters were previously published in peer review theological journals) I enjoyed it from beginning to end. It is especially helpful that Ortlund teaches us both theory and practice. Chapters 4-7 are test cases where he models theological retrieval. The chapter interacting with Irenaeus, Anselm, and Athanasius on the atonement is worth the price of the book.

In his preface Ortlund writes, “I have written this with pastors, theology students, and interested lay Christians in mind. This is a sort of lay level book that engages the scholarly machinery but ultimately hope to influence a broader readership.” (14)

I can only hope it does.

The Pursuit of Preaching with Precision: The Difficulty of the Dereliction.

Preaching is hard. Preaching with theological precision is harder. We all desire to be biblically faithful and theologically orthodox in our proclamation, but with some texts and doctrines, the possibility of confusion and misrepresentation is high. Take the cry of dereliction for example.

How does preacher faithfully communicate Christ forsaken in our place without unintentionally communicating heresy? The helpful pieces by Donald Macleod and Matthew Emerson speak to the difficulty of preaching Jesus’ famous words, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Macleod tells us that the cry cannot mean:

  1. That the eternal communion between the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit was broken.
  2. That the Father ceases to love the Son.
  3. That the Holy Spirit ceased to minister to the Son.
  4. That the words are a cry of despair. According to Macleod, “Despair would be sin.”

Matthew Emerson helpfully provides parameters for speaking about the cry of dereliction when he says, “In my view, any statement about it needs to be thoroughly Trinitarian, non-Nestorian, and Messianic.”

The existence of these two posts (and perhaps many others) tells us two things. Preaching the cry of dereliction is difficult and some preaching of the cry of dereliction has failed in its biblical fidelity and theological precision. Preaching doctrinally complex passages can be intimidating.

The Pursuit of Precision in Preaching

Given these warnings, it is important that pastors like myself prioritize the pursuit of theological precision. As I am preparing to preach Mark 15:21-16:8 I need to choose my words carefully as I pray and depend on the Spirit’s guidance. Preaching the cry of dereliction in a faithful and nuanced way is difficult. Even when we pursue precision there is room for misunderstanding.

I want to humbly suggest that precision should be prioritized before passion, popularity, or polemics. I use the word “before” because we are talking about priority not categories that are necessarily mutually exclusive. Furthermore, I’ve identified this as a pursuit because we should be always learning and growing as preachers.

Prioritize Precision Before Passion: I love preaching with passion. When I am proclaiming Christ I want my flock to hear me speak of him as a treasure, the object of my affections, the one who is worthy of honor, glory, and blessing. I want my tone of voice to match the majesty of the text when speaking of God’s glory and the justice of the text when speaking of God’s judgement.

Precision must still take priority over passion. If biblical fidelity and theological orthodoxy does not describe my content then my passionate presentation is in vain. As a pastor, I do not merely want the appearance of faithfulness. I want to be faithful. I want my private labor to result in public a proclamation that is faithful to God’s Word and the Christian tradition.

Therefore, when preaching on the cry of dereliction I am right to emphasize the gravity and seriousness of sin. A parallel to the cry is Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…” The self-substitution of God in our place needs to be proclaimed with a level of gravitas. In my passion I must be careful not to communicate that because the Son became sin he was separated as we were separated from the Father. As Macleod and Emerson reminded us: the communion of the trinity cannot be broken.

Prioritize Precision of Language Before Popular Language: My words need to prioritize precise language over popular language. By popular language I just mean the general way people talk about the cross. I am not advocating pretentious sermons that give no thought to the audience. That isn’t love. I simply mean choosing the words of the sermon with a degree of care. Ideas may need to be fleshed out and terms may need to be properly defined.

For example, in an otherwise good song we hear, “The Father’s wrath completely satisfied.” It is easy to regurgitate this language in preaching and imply that the Son isn’t wrathful toward sin. If this is communicated while preaching the cry of dereliction, hearers may misunderstood and think the Son is in disunity with the Father: enduring a wrath on the cross he doesn’t share.

To assist with this pastors should avail themselves of the best resources. We should be careful not to assume the popular language we know from sermons, songs, or books is the most faithful way to communicate the atonement simply because it is familiar. God has gifted the church with some wonderful biblical scholars and theologians whose writings are accessible. Why not take advantage of their labors? While at ETS last week I was sure to buy a copy of The Deep Things of God for this very reason. I need to grow in my theological precision.

Once we’ve prioritized precision of thought we can labor to communicate those truths in an accessible way that isn’t pretentious or arrogant. This is about priority not pretension. For example, when speaking of the cry of dereliction we might say something like: “It is important to remember that even in this moment the cross is a united work of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” I don’t have to use technical language.

Prioritize Precision Before Polemics: In our divided culture it is all too easy to think about everything as an argument. If precision is not prioritized our polemical posture may lead to being careless with words. Unfortunately, in my short Christian life i’ve heard a number of sermons that were almost exclusively polemical. A sermon should aim at the heart of the hearer so that the Spirit may use the Word of God to conform the hearer into greater Christ-likeness.

As a pastor who treasure the doctrine of penal substitution, I should be careful not to allow any defenses I would offer for the doctrine communicate an unbalanced or distorted version of it.

There is a lot more that could be said, but it is important to note that I am talking about primarily about a desired goal. As a pastor I want to pursue theological precision (when it is possible) in order to avoid perpetuating theological misunderstandings. Whether I will achieve this goal Sunday after Sunday is a different question. I simply want to strive to be careful with my language that I might be biblically faithful and theologically orthodox.

There are many times when we must appeal to mystery or allow ambiguities and tensions in the biblical text to remain. There are other times when even in our best effort we may miscommunicate or be out of balance. In these moments we remember the sufficiency of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit. We remember that God’s work is not ultimately dependent upon us, that our errors can be corrected, and if we cultivate a teachable spirit there is always grace to grow.

What a privilege it is to preach God’s word. May we be in a persistent pursuit to preach with precision for the edification of God’s people and for the glory of God.

You are the Coin of God

In Mark 12:13-17, the Pharisees and Herodians believe they can trap Jesus in his words. Their attack begins with flattering compliments, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God.” There are no lies here, only sinister motivations.

The question that intends to trap Jesus involves the Roman imperial tax. In Jesus’ day no topic was more divisive than Rome’s occupation. Some thought it best to be in cahoots with the Romans, while others longed for a day when Rome would be overturned by force. Therefore the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not” seems to be a no-win situation for Jesus. If he answers yes, the zealots will hate him. If he answers no, then Roman can arrest him.

Jesus is not fooled by flattery. He knows their hypocrisy and asks whose image is on a denarius. It is Caesars. Then comes the answer his opponents did not expect, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

It is common for commentators to write at lengths about the implications this passage has for a Christian’s relationship to government, but this seems to be a secondary concern for Jesus. Jesus redirects the conversation to focus on giving to God what is God’s, the very thing the Pharisees have neglected to do.

Jesus’ question about the coin naturally leads us to conclude that what we are to give to God is ourselves in whole-hearted worship. Like the coin, humanity bears the image of another.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  Genesis 1:27

Augustine notes that we are image bearers, but have a benefit that the inanimate coin does not,

“The coin has no knowledge of its bearing the image of the prince. But you are the coin of God, and so far highly superior, as possessing mind and even life, so as to know the One whose image you bear.”[1] Augustine

Humanity was created to know the one whose image they bear, but sin has disrupted that knowledge and distorted the image. Every person, without distinction lacks the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

Jesus, who speaks for both God and Caesar, is the only one who can restore the tainted and faded image in us. Jesus Christ is the, “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) whose death, burial, and resurrection defeats sin and death. When sinners put their faith in Jesus Christ, who is the very image of God, they “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Col. 3:10)

You are the coin of God, created to know the One whose image you bear through Jesus Christ, our Lord.


[1] Study Note on Mark 12:16 in the CSB Ancient Faith Study Bible.

Mother’s Day Reflection

Mother’s Day is a special time to reflect on the women in our lives who have loved, cared for, and raised us. For many of us, today is a joyous day that leads us to celebrate.

Today some will celebrate their aging mothers whom they love dearly, knowing there is little time left to do so.

Today some will celebrate their bride as husband’s watch their wives love and care for their children.

Today young ones will be filled with joy as they look up to their moms whom they are dependent on, but whom also are a source of fun, strength, and encouragement.

All of this is right and good. If you’re a mother this morning you are deeply loved here at Hermon. We celebrate with you and rejoice at the blessing that you are not only to your children, but also to our church.

Mother’s Day can also be a very hard day.

Today mothers will grieve the loss of children gone too soon.

Today mothers will be torn as their children celebrate them, because they wish they could celebrate like a child once again with their mothers who are not here.

Today women who have longed for motherhood will feel the weight of this day as grief, perhaps asking why?

Today some will be saddened because their mother was never a mom and the memories are far from memorable.

Today women who have walked the call to singleness with faithfulness will be reminded that they are not a wife or a mother, although perhaps they once wished to be.

The daily Christian life, brothers and sisters, requires that we share the joy of our family when they rejoice and that we share the grief of our family when they grieve.

So with a unified voice we rejoice and praise God for the mothers in the room and we grieve with those who will grieve today.

Here at Hermon Baptist Church, if you’re a woman this morning—you are deeply, deeply loved.

Wednesdays with Robertson: Diligence in the Study and Diligence in the Streets

The life and ministry of A.T. Robertson reminds us that we do not have to choose between serious Bible study and a life on mission in obedience to Christ. As an esteemed New Testament scholar, Robertson was known for his diligence in the study. However, if one were to read Robertson’s sermons they would be struck by his passion for personal evangelism. In our inaugural Wednesday with Robertson I reflected on his sermon, Jesus as a Soul-Winner. In that sermon Robertson preached on John 4 stating that the Gospel of John “…shows the Master in actual contact with an individual soul, precisely the point where so many ministers fail, who may preach eloquent sermons to the crowd. And yet most people won to Christ are brought one at a time, as the result of a personal word.”[1]

Similar convictions are found in Robertson’s sermon Passing the Torch based on 2 Timothy 1:6; 2:2, “For which reason I am reminding thee to keep blazing the gift of God…Deposit these with reliable men who will be able to teach others also.”

What follows is an excerpt from the final point of Passing the Torch. Here Robertson is commenting on the end of 2 Timothy 2:2, “…reliable men who will be able to teach others also.” Notice again his passion for personal evangelism.

These reliable men “will be able to teach others also” Paul says. So it has always been in the spread of the gospel. One live coal sets fire to another. Andrew brings his brother Simon to Jesus. John brings James. Phillip brings Nathanael. Dr. John R. Mott proved a generation ago that by one winning one the whole world could be brought to Christ in one generation. But often a whole life passes by without bringing another soul to the Master. Personal evangelism is the only way by which the gospel can successfully be brought to the hearts of men. We need preaching; more of it, and better, but the personal touch of heart to heart, of life on life is what counts most.[2] I heard D.L. Moody say once in a sermon that he knew more souls won to Christ by his conversation than by his preaching. And Moody was an effective evangelist. Isaiah’s lips were touched by live coal from the alter of God and so he had a tongue of flame. Nature is prodigal in her efforts at the reproduction of life. Seeds fall everywhere, carried by the wind and finding congenial soil…We should be drummers for Christ. Some men can live in a Christian community and never have a personal word spoken to them about their soul’s welfare. Friends will talk about business, pleasures, politics, the weather, anything, everything except the most important thing of all, which is taboo in many social circles and contacts. But if we pass the torch of eternal life, we must keep our torch blazing. Even if we do not always light that our neighbors and friends, we can keep it burning as a witness for Christ.”[3]

In his essay Why Textual Criticism for the Preacher, Robertson encouraged pastors not to neglect the tedious work of the study. In his sermon Passing the Torch he encouraged preachers not to neglect sharing the gospel in the streets. Robertson did not choose between diligence in the study and diligence in the streets.

Neither should we.


[1] Jesus As a Soul-Winner in Archibald Thomas Robertson, Jesus As a Soul-Winner And Other Sermons (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company).

[2] Emphasis mine.

[3] Passing the Torch in Archibald Thomas Robertson, Passing the Torch and Other Sermons (New York: Fleming Revell Company).

Wednesdays With Robertson: Why Textual Criticism for the Preacher

It was in the classroom under the instruction of John A. Broadus that A.T. Robertson began to have an interest in textual criticism.[1] With great appreciation for his teacher and father-in-law, Robertson referred to Broadus as a “master of the theme” who taught the class with “zest and great skill.”[2]

            Textual criticism according to Stanley Porter “is the concern to recover the original form of the text by means of rigorous text-critical methodology to the available manuscript evidence.”[3] As Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Robertson taught New Testament textual criticism throughout his teaching career. The great theologian B.B. Warfield even requested that Robertson revise Warfield’s own introductory textbook on the subject, but Robertson was exhausted from researching grammar. Later in his career he ultimately would publish his own book, An Introduction to Textual Criticism of the New Testament in 1925.

            A year later Robertson published a collection of essays entitled Studies in the Text of the New Testament and in that volume Robertson dedicates an entire chapter to answering the question, why textual criticism for the preacher? It seems that Robertson felt the need to come to the discipline’s defense as theological institutions began to remove it from their curriculum. “To the average preacher there is no more uninteresting or uninviting field of study than the textual criticism of the New Testament. Many do not even know the meaning of the phrase. It is not taught in all our theological seminaries.”[4]  Worried that ignorance of the field would result in poor preaching, Robertson with perhaps a little too much drama writes,

“The intelligent minister today cannot afford to remain in complete ignorance of this subject. If he does, he may find himself preaching from a text that some of the Sunday School teachers know is not genuine. Or he may be unable to form an intelligent opinion on the point at issue and have to rely wholly upon the opinion of others. Few things are more dreary than pulpit quotations of scholars on any given point, whether pro or con.”

This past week I was faced with two scenarios that support Robertson’s concern. The first was the textual variant in Mark 1:41. Most manuscripts read, “and being moved with pity/compassion he reached out his hand and touched him”(καὶ ⸁σπλαγχνισθεὶς ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα* ⸂αὐτοῦ ἥψατο⸃). However, an important Greek manuscript has a different reading and it is even favored by the NIV, “Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man” (καὶ ὀργισθεὶς ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα αὐτοῦ ἥψατο). Although I preach from the ESV, many members at Hermon use the NIV and ignoring it from the pulpit didn’t seem helpful.

            The other scenario came from a loved one who sent me a text just this Monday morning. “Question, Matthew 18:11 in the NLT doesn’t exist. It skips from verse 10 to 12. I got a message from someone I gifted the Bible to. I looked it up and found it was added later. Does that information sound accurate?” These examples reminded me that I have the opportunity to protect believers from the false notion that there is “something wrong with their Bible.” In order to maximize that opportunity I need to continue to grow in my knowledge of textual criticism. These questions will not be left in the classroom. They will come from the lips of parishioners, family members, or friends.

With Robertson, I want to be able to encourage Christians to marvel that “through the centuries of repeated copying by so many men in so many languages the text of the New Testament has suffered so little real damage.We may be sure that nothing essential has been lost.”[5]

            Unfortunately, I was unable to take New Testament Textual Criticism as an elective during my MDiv. Every student has to make choices and I chose a class on the Septuagint. It was a great class and I don’t regret it for a second, but I wish I would have had one more elective available! This brings us to an important question. Given that textual criticism is such a technical field and the pastor will likely never achieve expertise in it, should he simply ignore it? Robertson says absolutely not.[6]

“Even if one does not become an expert in it, he will gain a sense of independence in reaching probable conclusions that will be satisfying…There is also a splendid training in clear thinking in this study. One balances the various forms of evidence before he reaches his final conclusion. This mental process calls for insight, weighing evidence, delicate balancing of probabilities, clear grasp of the data, honesty in deciding. These qualities are not confined, to be sure, to this study, but they are so demanded by it that one gains a fine intellectual drill in the exercise of them.”[7]

I will never be an expert in any field, but for the pastor expertise is not the point. Robertson reminds us of the joy of doing difficult things! The task of textual criticism challenges and stretches the preacher in positive ways. As the nonspecialist pastor labors over the text and the evidence, “he will gain a sense of independence…that will be satisfying.”

            Theological retrieval is emphasized today and rightly so! However, we can’t move from text to theology if we don’t have a text. In Why Textual Criticism for the Preacher, Robertson reminds us that students and pastors can’t afford to abandon the seemingly dry work of textual criticism.

            “It is plain that no intelligent minister can afford to be indifferent to the textual criticism of the New Testament, the subject fascinates those who study it long enough to feel at home in it, and it repays amply all the work that one may devote to it.”


[1] A.T. Robertson, An Introduction to Textual Criticism of the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1925) vii.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts, Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015) 1.

[4] A.T. Robertson, Studies in the Text of the New Testament (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1926) 54.

[5] Robertson, Studies in the Text of the New Testament, 64.

[6] A very important distinction needs to be made in regards to those who have theological education available to them and those who do not. Pastors and preachers who fill pulpits, work bi-vocationally, and/or have little access to theological education are a blessing. Ultimately 1 Timothy 3:1-7 provides the qualifications for an elder.

[7]  Robertson, Studies in the Text of the New Testament 58.