Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book Review: The Incarnation in the Gospels

Around the main seasons in the church calendar, I like to do some seasonal reading. It helps to focus again on the events of Christmas / Easter or whatever. This year's Christmas book had actually been bought last Christmas, but wasn't opened and saved until this year.

The Incarnation in the Gospels is a publication from the Reformed Expository Commentary series, with contributions (on one of the gospels each) from Daniel M Doriani, Philip Graham Ryken and Richard D Phillips. At some future point (at least when they were originally published in this volume) they will be found within the broader scope of the entire gospel commentary.

Unlike most commentaries, this volume comes across as more a collection of Christmas sermons collated by the authors and presented as a commentary. This approach has good aspects - we see how these men would preach to their congregations the message of Christmas and apply it; lots of ideas are contained within for readers and preachers alike; the expositions are fairly thorough and, if preached, would be longer than most sermons congregations (certainly in Northern Ireland) would be used to.

However, it doesn't quite do what it says on the tin. It isn't really a commentary on the Bible passages, as we've been at least one step removed from the hard work of engagement with the text - which is what would perhaps be most useful in a commentary. I think we see the polished, finished article too much here, and not really the difficult issues or interesting word studies and background or further discussion of the passage.

As I've also said in previous book reviews, it's harder to read when there are multiple authors, getting used to their very different writing/preaching styles in their own contributions.

That said, I think this will still be useful for pastors and those tasked with preaching at Christmas services. While you're not going to repeat word for word what has been written here, there are plenty of ideas and illustrations from which to build your own sermons on the Biblical texts of the incarnation. There are also some additional resources which may be helpful for pastors planning Christmas worship, including an outline for a ten lessons and carols service; extra ideas for gospel-centred worship at Christmas; and some modern carols with music printed in the book!

It's obviously too late for this year, but keep an eye out for it in September when you're planning your Christmas services and preaching.

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