Monday, May 6, 2013

"Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul" Review

It seems that charts and theology are becoming quite popular again. In the past few years we have seen a wealth of publications containing charts on virtually every area of philosophy and theology...and even on books of the Bible (like Hebrews and Revelation). Now, from Lars Kierspel and Kregel publishing, comes Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul. The title of the book says it all. The question is, is it worth your money?

Let me provide a succinct answer and back it up with three points and a caveat: No educated pastor, teacher, lay leader, seminary student or interested Bible student should be without this book. The book is that good. Why?

1) It features 111 charts on virtually every area of Paul's life, letters and thought. It is as comprehensive as you might imagine...and then some. A few highlights include chart 89 which gives the highlights on the "faith of Christ" vs. "faith in Christ" debate; charts 48 and 49 which detail the list of Paul's quotation AND allusions to Old Testament passages; chart 43 which contains every hapax legomena in Paul's letters and charts 1-9 which contain a wealth of information concerning Paul's cultural background.

My only complaint (and I feel ridiculous even complaining about this) is that I wish they had a chart for the key words for every one of Paul's letters. Lars Kierspel provides one for 1 Corinthians and Romans...and I loved it so much I wanted one for every letter.

2) The raw data presented is simply breathtaking. Keep in mind that there are few conclusions the charts themselves draw (you can find that in Lars' commentary on his charts in the last few pages of the book). Instead what is at your fingertips is just pure data. It essentially boils down all of the exegetical information you need and tells you, "Now study and draw conclusions." It is a treasure trove of data that I had to go to multiple sources to find before. I love that it is all in one place now.

3) It is wonderfully laid out. A book that has a bunch of charts is no good if the charts are confusing. Thankfully, the charts are clear, concise and easy to read. There is a lot of information packed into these charts and the fact that they are still easily understood is a testament to how much thought went into this volume.

A Caveat: While there is an absolute wealth of information provided in this book, this book also simplifies many of the issues. An example of this can be found on chart 88 which attempts to show verses in Paul that highlight God's sovereignty and human responsibility. Lars provides a good (but not great) list. So the chart is not exhaustive but it contains the main ideas. Another example of this is chart 111 which attempts to give an introduction on the "New Perspectives" on Paul.  In all honesty, the chart is not very useful unless you are aware of a) the conversation as a whole and b) that the entire NPP is not monolithic. Even then, I found the entire discussion in the chart somewhat confusing. While I am glad that a chart was included, I wish it had been better thought out. This is another example of simplification.

Those are minor quibbles, however, about an otherwise fantastic book. Pick it up today! You will not be disappointed.

*I received this book as a review copy from Kregel Academic in exchange for a fair review.*