A Review of a Commentary on Habakkuk

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There are little tapped wells of wisdom in the minor prophets. For many evangelicals, the twelve short books that come between Daniel and Matthew are “lost books” that AWANA kids memorize the order of but may never hear a sermon from.

Treating the minor prophets as flyover country in our annual reading plans is a huge mistake, as is readily apparent in Heath Thomas’ recent commentary on Habakkuk. With only three short chapters, it might seem difficult to fill over two-hundred pages, but this latest entry in the Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary Series never lacks with biblical and theological material to enrich the reader.

Thomas is an Old Testament scholar and the Dean of the Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry at Oklahoma Baptist University. He has published several books, focusing on biblical interpretation and material in Scripture dealing with lament and suffering. Habakkuk offers fertile ground for discussing lament, suffering, providence, and faith.

This commentary on Habakkuk uses a method of interpretation known as “Theological Interpretation of Scripture” or TIS. The approach is often caricatured and sometimes unclearly explained by its proponents. However, Thomas’ exegesis of Habakkuk shows TIS at its best: he deals with the biblical data and linguistic research while setting the book in the rich theological and historical context of its interpretation as Christian Scripture. This is a volume that both honors the text and reads it in light of the whole canon and the tradition of faith which has preserved it.

The book is divided into two parts. Part One begins with a lengthy introduction, followed by a chapter on each of the chapters in Habakkuk. The exegesis in these chapters is section by section, as with many biblical commentaries. Part Two consists of three chapters that explore Habakkuk theologically. Thomas delves into the major themes in Habakkuk as they relate to biblical theology, the relationship between the minor prophet’s short book, prayer, and shalom, and finally the usefulness of Habakkuk for spiritual formation. The first portion of this commentary is helpful, but the second part is worth the price of the book alone.

Habakkuk is a book that is worthy of deeper study, as Thomas makes plain. God’s sovereign power is evident as he gives Habakkuk the promise that he will use a rogue nation still not yet a major power to bring his judgment on injustice and eventually fulfill his purposes. Habakkuk shows the expected degree of disbelief and shock at God’s promise to use the Chaldeans. And yet, by the end of the three chapters, the reader sees that Habakkuk has come to a sense of hope in God’s coming justice, even if he himself does not witness it firsthand.

This commentary is academic and will best be used for deep study of the book of Habakkuk. It will be fruitful reading for professors and students alike. Educated pastors will also find this a useful resource to include in their library. Though studying the book of Habakkuk would benefit many lay people, this volume is likely to be too dense for the average person in the pew.

Though it is geared toward an academic audience, the theological discussions Thomas includes in the latter portion of the volume will make this a tool for both sermon preparation and spiritual formation by pastors who choose to invest in this book. By interpreting the volume through a theological lens—a lens that has been formed and smoothed by millennia of Christian teaching––Thomas has written a volume that is spiritually enriching as well as exegetically precise. In other words, Thomas helps the reader to see both what the text of Scripture says as well as why it matters.

This is a book that deserves attention. It would be a welcome addition to the library of an institution or those who engaged in exegesis of texts. Heath Thomas’ commentary on Habakkuk will be a useful tool for decades to come.

The Story of Scripture - A Review

Hershel Hobbs was a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, a faithful pastor, and a theologian for the church. He helped guide the SBC through the doctrinal struggle that is commonly referred to as the Conservative Resurgence, where the theologically orthodox majority of the denomination reclaimed the SBC from the revisionist minority that had gained control of her seminaries, mission boards, and other structures. He was faithful through that work, but importantly, he was deeply concerned about the long-term health and viability of the local church. For Hobbs, the vitality of local churches was dependent upon a reliance and intimacy of the Word of God, which is why many of his 100+ published books are popular-level, verse by verse commentaries on books of the Bible.

With that background, it is a fitting tribute that the first volume in the Hobbs College Library series from Oklahoma Baptist University is an overview of the narrative of Scripture. It is a book designed to introduce the reader to what academics call biblical theology, but which is really just the process of looking at the big picture of Scripture and reading the Bible in light of the common, interwoven, recurring themes.

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Matthew Emerson, associate professor of religion at OBU, was commissioned to write the inaugural volume, The Story of Scripture: An Introduction to Biblical Theology. This little book is targeted at the average Christian who is interested in understanding the Bible better, though it is written by someone who has studied Scripture academically and continues to engage in deep, rigorous scholarship about the Bible. The book is divided into six chapters, including the introduction.

Summary

In Chapter One, Emerson lays the groundwork for the volume. He begins by arguing that Scripture is united in its theme and thrust. Though it was authored by more than forty authors over a period of 1000+ years and consolidated into one volume with 66 books, Scripture has a single main story to tell. In this chapter, Emerson outlines the meaning of and history of the study of Biblical theology, which is essential for those who will do further reading on the topic.

Chapter Two lays out the first three major themes in the story of Scripture: creation, fall, and redemption. As we piece together the overriding message of Scripture, the storyline is clear: God created the earth good, but Adam sinned leading to the curse. This is the story of Genesis 1-3. God didn’t leave it there, though, he began to enact a pattern of redemption that is evident throughout the rest of Scripture and whose seeds were planted along with the curse. Chapter Two takes the reader through the book of Genesis.

In Chapter Three, Emerson continues to trace the theme of redemption through the rest of the Old Testament, as God’s plan and providence are made evident through the Law, Prophets, and Writings. Chapter Four continues to outline redemption as it is accomplished and applied through the life of Christ, and finally described as consummated in the book of Revelation.

Chapter Five explores some of the major topics or keys that are commonly used to frame biblical theology. These include covenant, kingdom, creation, wisdom, God’s servant, mission and other. Emerson does not provide a comprehensive list (if there is such a thing), but does explain some of the most frequent approaches. Finally, in Chapter Six, Emerson succinctly outlines methods for applying biblical theology, including development of doctrine, ethics, counseling, and other suggestions.

Analysis and Conclusion

This book does not add depth or detail to the literature on biblical theology. However, The Story of Scripture does provide a helpful entry point for the study and application of a critical method of handling Scripture. Emerson does well in providing an entry point for students, pastors, or the average layperson who wants to know how to study the Bible better and piece together a big picture understanding of God’s work in redemptive history.

The Story of Scripture would be a useful volume to give to a new believer who is trying to figure out what is going on in the Bible. It would make a helpful text in an introductory course on the Christian faith or an overview of Scripture. This volume would also be useful in a home school setting, as the concise volume could be easily digested and discussed by the average high schooler.

Emerson has kicked off the multi-volume series from the Hobbs College Library well with this volume that should serve as a tool for churches and individual Christians for years to come.

NOTE: I received a gratis copy of this volume with no expectation of a positive review.