Feb 23, 2015

Review of Keller's Romans 8–16 For You

Romans 8–16 For You claims that it is not a commentary but rather an expository guide (p. 9). But many (including myself) would probably slot this as a devotional commentary although it is more textually detailed than many commentaries in this category. The author, Timothy Keller is a popular author and Senior Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

The book consists of twelve chapters, a glossary, appendices, and a bibliography. Each chapter consists of introductory remarks, exposition of the text at hand, and questions for reflection. The language is simple and more technical terms are marked in gray and all such words defined in the glossary.

The commentary itself takes a fairly traditional evangelical approach to Romans. Keller sees the book as “the most sustained explanation of the heart of the gospel, and the most thrilling exposition of how the gospel goes to work in our hearts” (p. 7). He suggests that chapter 8–16 continues to answer the question, “How does faith in the gospel of Christ actually lead to change in real life?” (p. 7).

By way of commendation, one might begin with the clarity of the prose. This is a real strength. One might disagree with a statement but it is unlikely that one will misunderstand it. Would it be that more commentaries be exemplified by such clarity. Another positive for a devotional commentary like this is that Keller often steers clear of the technical minutia and myriad of interpretive views that can characterize a study of Romans. More often than not, the author simply states his understanding of the text and moves on. The two appendices are also a plus. The first consists of an outline of sorts that traces the flow of thought of Romans 8–16. I would recommend that readers photocopy this “outline” and have it available as one goes through the chapters. The second is devoted to a discussion of election. Here, Keller takes a standard Calvinistic approach to the issue.

By way of critique, three points would be noted. First, one of the real benefits of devotional-type commentaries is the devotional content (e.g., introductions, illustrations, etc.). The preacher or teacher looking for such material will not find much help here. Second, this work is surprisingly devoid of true applications. Issues in the text are raised but are rarely pressed home. Maybe Keller believes that raising the issue is applying it. But it is likely that many who would turn to a work like this might need help in moving from theological proposition to principle and from principle to application. Time and again, I reached the end of the chapter and wondered, okay, what must or should I do now. The reflection questions are not much help here either. Third, I have already noted my appreciation for the “outline” in the appendix but it would be really helpful if there was more explicit parallel between it and the content of the chapters. This is why I suggested earlier that one photocopy the outline. The flow of thought is clearer in the outline than the actual chapter. 

In sum, Romans 8–16 For You, comes to a rather crowded field of Romans resources. I am not sure how much it brings to this loaded table. If one wants to get Keller’s take of this important epistle then this book and its companion covering chapters 1–7 is a must. If not, then this book stands as a good but undistinguished option.

Thanks to the Good Book Company for providing the free review copy used in this review.

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