Suggested reading for September: When in Romans, Issue 117

September 5, 2017 by Presbyterian Foundation

Augustine heard the voice of a child saying, “Take and read, take and read.” He opened a Bible, began to read, and was set on the path of committed discipleship and faithful pastoral ministry as the Bishop of Hippo and a theologian for the ages. Let’s assume that pastors do not need to be encouraged to read the Bible. But what else can we read that will enhance our preaching, teaching, and pastoral care?

Suggestion for September reading:

Beverly Roberts Gaventa, When in Romans: An Invitation to Linger with the Gospel According to Paul. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016.

Beverly Gaventa has a way with titles. When in Romans joins Our Mother Saint Paul (WJK, 2007) in her effort to rescue Paul from stereotype and neglect. Professor Gaventa, previously at Princeton Seminary and now at Baylor University, has written a brief, accessible book for people (including pastors) who would not normally read a book about Romans. She begins by sharing her impression that “we are seldom in Romans for very long. At most, we make weekend visits.” Even then, she continues, “we ride through Romans on one of those hop-on, hop-off tourist buses, seeing the same highlights every time we travel around the circuit. We never notice that we are in a vast metropolitan area, larger, more astonishing, and more disturbing than we imagine.”

Gaventa’s engaging book is not a commentary on Romans or a survey of the letter. Instead, it focuses on four central themes: “When in Romans … Watch the Horizon, Consider Abraham, Give Glory to God, Welcome One Another.” She discusses each of the themes in the context of the whole letter, avoiding technical matters in order to keep readers’ visits free from unnecessary detours. (Gaventa suggests that most readers should ignore her footnotes. As an inveterate footnote reader, I agree. They break the otherwise smooth flow.)

Pastors will find When in Romans an antidote to lectionary snippets that isolate a few verses from the whole of Romans. Church members will find When in Romans a reliable guide to Paul’s letter. Both will find that When in Romans makes Paul’s letter inviting instead of imposing, helpful rather than enigmatic, stimulating instead of boring.

Beverly Gaventa’s engaging book makes it an excellent choice for a congregational book group, an adult class, a session study, a presbytery retreat, a pastors’ fellowship group … almost any gathering of Christians who care about Scripture and the good news it proclaims.

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