Dec 29, 2019

A Review of Reading Acts

Joshua Jipp. Reading Acts. Cascade Companions. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2018.

The author is Associate Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has authored several monographs and numerous articles related to the New Testament. 

Reading Acts is part of the Cascade Companions series. This series’ stated aim is to “introduce nonspecialist readers to that vital storehouse of authors, documents, themes, histories, arguments, and movements that comprise this heritage [Christian theological tradition] with brief yet compelling volumes.” This is a worthy goal though “nonspecialist readers” are not specifically defined. Perhaps it refers to the typical layperson (if there be such a one).

In any case, there is much to appreciate about the volume at hand. It is well-written, carefully and fairly argued, and offers thought-provoking insights from one who has clearly spent considerable time in Acts. The book begins by addressing introductory matters and then proceeds thematically and roughly in the order of Acts. A final postscript addresses why one should read Acts and this is followed by a brief bibliography and subject and scripture indices. That being said, this work is difficult to categorize. It is part introduction, biblical theology, commentary, and study guide (with questions). It reminds me of a study Bible but with only the notes and sidebars but with a bit more scholarly heft. This is not bad per se, but who would be inclined to want to give this volume the consideration it deserves?

There are other factors that might hinder this work. The fact that it does not follow the actual text of Acts (at least religiously) makes it a bit difficult for the “nonspecialist” to follow. A better approach might have been to follow the text and highlight the theological threads that run through the book. It is ironic that Reading Acts does not actually read Acts as Acts reads. Another limitation is the bibliography. While one should not expect to have a fully-developed bibliography there are notable and surprising omissions that might be helpful for the “nonspecialist” to be aware of. For example, commentaries by C. K. Barrett, D. Bock, and F. F. Bruce, J. A. Fitzmyer, and B. Witherington are not listed and works like H. Conzelmann’s The Theology of St. Luke, I. H. Marshall’s Luke as Theologian, and Witness to the Gospel: The Theology of Acts edited by I. H. Marshall and D. Peterson are also notably absent. Meanwhile, the author includes six of his own works. There are good and legitimate reasons for referencing one’s own work but does this seeming imbalance really accomplish the mission of the series to introduce readers to the breadth of the Christian theological tradition? 

Reading Acts is a good work. But I am not sure it really fills a void. Having invested considerable time in Acts myself, I appreciate the exegetical and theological bang-for-the-buck but I wonder if the “nonspecialist” will find as much help. I hope so, because Acts is a book well worth the Church’s consideration as it, like the early Church, finds itself in an increasingly non-Christian, pagan, immoral, and hostile world. I suspect that there are better resources to help the “nonspecialist” to tolle lege (take up and read). 

Thanks to Cascade for providing the copy used in this unbiased review.

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