Thursday, February 17, 2011

Commentary Series Recommendation for Pastors

This is a recommendation for evangelical pastors.  I'm often asked about what commentary series to buy by Wesleyan pastors and seminary students.  The usual scholarly answer is less than helpful, even if it is accurate.  You'll hear things like, "You really should buy commentaries based on the author and specific commentary rather than by the series."

Certainly that's true.  The authors in a series are not all the same.  Some are better than others.  Some are better at one book than another.  But how do you know which to pick?  Certainly David Bauer's Annotated Guide is good.

Another thing scholars will do is recommend a series out of the reach of most pastors.  For example, the Word series is excellent.  The Hermeneia is probably the most scholarly of all.  But these commentaries are not the most helpful to the typical pastor who may not know the original languages or not know them well.  Also, these commentaries are not oriented around application but around the original meaning.

So for the typical evangelical pastor, I have generally settled on recommending the NIV Application Commentary series for the following reasons:

1. It does not require knowledge of Greek and Hebrew.
2. It addresses the kinds of questions that evangelicals ask and answers them from an evangelical perspective.
3. It does a fair job of making you aware of the kinds of background information you could not really get from the text itself.
4. It is accessible.  The format is friendly to the "get it quick" user.
5. It is hermeneutically aware.  Sections have clear distinctions between interpretation and application.

The main drawback for Wesleyans is that there are no authors from the Wesleyan tradition in this entire series.  This is our situation in general.  The Wesleyan tradition neither has the publishing power of other traditions nor general interest in publishing/buying these sorts of books. That means the most you will get at best is a broadly Arminian perspective from the NIV Application series.  For some that's a strength; for Wesleyans, it means opportunities are missed.  I hope to look at the new Nazarene series some time soon to see if it fills in some of these gaps.

The same goes for instances where evangelicalism is out of sync with majority scholarship.  For example, Moo's IVP Application Commentary on 2 Peter/Jude tries to argue that Jude is dependent on 2 Peter.  This is an attempt based purely on ideological rather than exegetical concerns.  But you could argue that it is exactly this sort of interpretive perspective evangelical pastors are looking for, so that could be a strength rather than a weakness.


Anonymous said...


I can appreciate the q... wait... I was about to lie.

I think its a shame that evangelical pastors look for easy answers. Without reading the Bible (which was not written in English as you well know) for themselves and making their own application for their own congregation, they are doomed to sermons filled with other people's thoughts. I think church folk should expect more from their preachers and teachers.

"I don't want to know if the answers aren't easy. So just bring it down from the mountain to me. I want a new law." - Derek Webb "A New Law"


Ken Schenck said...

I think you're right about the ideal and I wouldn't have it any other way for myself or anyone else in theological leadership. However, I'm also pragmatic. Better to help everyone well on the way than to limit attention to leading a small few all the way, IMHO.