Ask 100 people what their favorite book of the Bible is and there is a good chance that the most common answer will be the book of Romans. Why shouldn’t it? Paul’s letter to this church which he hoped to visit contains both the fullest explanation of the Gospel message in the Bible and some of the greatest encouragement to struggling Christians. Whose heart does not jump at the “but now” in Romans 3:21? What Christian has not turned to Romans 8:28 or 8:38-39 in times of great difficulty? Some of its major passages are also the most debated. What does righteousness mean? Should use “propitiation” or “expiation” in Romans 3:25? Is Paul describing Christian or preChristian experience in Romans 7? Does Romans 9 refer to corporate election or national election?
Tim Keller helps Christians understand the message of this important letter in his newest book Romans 1-7 For You. This is the latest in a series on biblical books by Keller and he hopes that each volume in the series will be Bible centered, Christ glorifying, relevantly applied, and easily readable. The introduction tells readers that they can use this work to read cover to cover and get a cursory understanding of the themes in Romans, read for themselves or in a group as they study Romans, or to work through as you lead others to understand the message of Romans.
Keller divides the book into manageable sections and covers it in two parts. As he works through the text, he first explains what the text means. He manages to do this by explaining both the overarching theme of each section and by explaining details throughout as well. He manages to be thorough without bogging the reader down in minor details. His explanation of passages demonstrates his familiarity with the literature and debates in Romans scholarship. At the same time, the reader will not feel over his head as Keller explores the issues that are present in the text. For example, he explains the debate concerning “expiation” and “propitiation” in a paragraph. While the discussion is not exhaustive, the reader is alerted to the issue and how it affects the interpretation of the passage.
Keller does not stop with his explanation of the text, but moves on to explaining both theological and practical issues raised in the text. Paul’s references to homosexuality in Romans 1 serve as a good example for how Keller handles this. Knowing the times in which he lives and the issues raised by this passage, he stops and offers fuller explanation of the text on this point. He does so by appealing to other passages of Scripture. Then he points out how churches and Christians can wrongly understand and wrongly apply these verses. Practically, he exposes the workings of the legalistic heart in Romans 2. Demonstrating the difference between Christianity and legalistic self-righteousness is a Keller trademark. He does so in Romans 2 both anchored to the text and understanding how the human heart can work.
I wholeheartedly recommend Romans 1-7 For You to those who want to grow in their understanding of Romans 1-7. This book will serve those who are reading Romans in devotions, as each section can be read in 15-20 minutes. Pastors using this book in their preaching will need to do so after exploring the text in the technical commentaries. After working through some of the well-known academic commentaries, it will help pastors think through how to explain theological issues in their sermon and some practical areas that the text addresses.
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(I received Romans 1-7 For You through the Cross Focused review program in exchange for an honest review of the work.)