Keller, Timothy, Romans 1-7 for You: For Reading, For Feeding, For Leading. God’s Word for You. The Good Book Company, 2014. 199 pp. $22.99.
Tim Keller’s, Romans 1-7 for You is his third installment in a series written with the average Christian in mind. Keller introduces the book of Romans by writing that it “is a book that repeatedly changes the world, by changing people” (7). So his Romans 1-7 for You is “an expository guide” which serves to “[open] up the Scriptures and [suggest] how it applies to us today” (10). It is not a commentary, and is not intended to serve as one. It serves as a helpful devotional or group Bible study well, but serious students of the Word who hope to see Keller interact with the volumes of commentaries offered on the book of Romans, will be intensely frustrated with the brevity of his bibliography. He occasionally dips into discussion of the Greek text, but this is simply not an exegetical work. He provides merely a two-and-a-half-page appendix discussing the New Perspective debate, because elaborating on this point is simply not the intent of the book. Thus, it is imperative that one review it as it was written, and not as one might have preferred it have been written.
Keller’s goal is the application of the text, and, generally speaking, he excels at making a deeply theological book very applicable to the average reader. He draws discussions of depravity, faith, imputed righteousness, and sanctification out of the text powerfully and seamlessly. He provides a helpful distinction between saving faith and a faith that saves:
We must not fall prey to the subtle mistake of thinking that our faith actually saves us, as though the Old Testament God wanted obedience to the law for salvation, and now he has changed the requirements and all he wants is faith. That is a misunderstanding of both the Testaments, of the role of both law and faith! In both the Old and New Testaments, it is the work of Christ that merits our salvation. In both, faith is how it is received, and that is all it is. Faith is simply the attitude of coming to God with empty hands. (81)
However, this application-based intent leads Keller into one of the most common errors when reading a text. Keller presents chapter one as demonstrating that the unrighteous and irreligious need the gospel, and then claims that “2:1 comes as a bucket of cold water to the religious person” (39). Readers of Keller’s Prodigal God will recognize his skill at spinning the discussion away from the irreligious and against the religious and self-righteous. Indeed, one might make the accusation that Keller reads Luke 15 into Romans 1-2 and allows his infatuation with the “elder brother” motif to drive his exegesis.
Yet, it is a statement that Keller makes regarding 2:17 that reveals the common error in reading the New Testament. He writes, “we feel the force of the verse simply by inserting ‘Christian’ for ‘Jew'” (53). Were he to do this and then keep the discussion on the inability of the Judaic law to earn salvation, his substitution may have merit. However, rather than allowing this to simply assist the reader in feeling the scandal of the verse, Keller goes on at length in discussing the emptiness of mere Christian ritual. Moving the discussion in this text from Judaism to Christianity is to completely alter Paul’s point. Nowhere does Paul equate Judaism with Christianity. Anytime the reader does so, it is to moralize a text that was originally intended to be theologically instructive. While this may be the sort of insight that the Holy Spirit might lead one to see devotionally, it is simply not the main point of the text.
Apart from this misstep, Romans 1-7 for You is a fantastic little resource, and I feel confident giving it a high recommendation.
Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 for You: For Reading, For Feeding, For Leading
I received this book free from the publisher through the Cross Focused Reviews book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.