In this rich, lay oriented, expositional commentary addressing the 2nd half of the Paul’s lengthy, theologically packed, intellectually and spiritually challenging letter to the church in Rome, Timothy Keller, pastor of a Presbyterian church in New York City, has written a broadly accessible book for the church. Per his introduction, Keller believes that the question this section of Romans asks and which he attempts to elucidate in a simple, honest, textually faithful manner is “How does faith in the gospel of Christ (really in Christ Himself as He actually is) actually lead to change in real life?” His goal seems to be to open up the meaning of this part of Romans, expanding our understanding of the greatness and goodness of God as He actually is, of our desperate, helpless spiritual condition barring His gracious, wise, loving, saving mercy toward us in Christ’s voluntary, self-sacrificing love, opting to be cursed and judged at Calvary in our place, and of the implications of those two things for Christian understanding and life (life always follows whatever doctrine / belief / understanding is actually held by a person, whether that is accurate and true, confused and dim, rebellious and deluded, etc.).
Production quality of this 9″ H x 6″ W x 3 / 4″ D hardback is fine, although a bit hard to hold open for reading, marking, etc.; space for marginal note taking is somewhat limited. It has 12 chapters in ~ 200 pages with a helpful glossary, a summary / outline appendix, a second appendix on God’s free, wise, sovereign, merciful, loving election of some / many to salvation (this topic, due to human pride and fear of error, is difficult and challenging but essential to come to terms with at some point if one does not want to remain spiritually dwarfed), and a solid, brief, helpful bibliography. Each section ends with sometimes helpful questions. Many solid, helpful, insightful quotes by first-rate scholars, preachers, and theologians are interspersed throughout the chapters.
Chapter 1 addresses the fact stated in Romans 8:1 that those to whom God has shown mercy are forever free from divine condemnation, both individually and corporately, as those irrevocably accepted by Him into His family on the basis on the divine, wholly unearned and undeserved, saving gift of penitent faith in Christ, faith that flows out of divinely effected regeneration / spiritual birth. While a true sense of guilt does and should remain as befitting the reality of our existential situation and due to our ongoing sinfulness (but whose chains have also been destroyed), we have been made and declared forever free from any actual condemnation (but not discipline) by God, a most powerful, liberating truth. “We are set free from the law as a way of acceptance (i.e., no one can be saved by jumping through man-made hoops or even by attempting to comply with the divine moral standards, the law, which God has rightly instituted and requires of us), but remaining obliged to keep it as a way of holiness. It is as a ground of justification that the law no longer binds us … But as a standard of conduct the law is still binding…” John Stott. Also our actual religion is found in those things that truly occupy the mind; Christians are to become increasingly skillful in focusing on the pure and holy and rejecting all sinful thoughts and desires (all ungodly activities of mind and action) that lead to death, as sin, in the light of God’s goodness toward us, begins to lose all attraction to us. We also come to the realization that we are owed absolutely nothing by God except judgment, but God, graciously though Christ alone, has been merciful toward us in spite of what we are and have done. Our (increasingly less flawed) obedience to the divine law reflecting God’s nature arises out of love and gratitude for those objective, eternal realities. In light of those things, we need to learn to preach to ourselves every day mini-sermons of God’s grace toward us in Christ (the gospel).
In chapter 2 Keller expounds on the reality of living in light of the fact that we (all those of genuine faith) are God’s specially adopted children via the divine gift of faith, with all attendant rights, privileges, powers, and duties. “The notion that we are (now) children of God, his own sons and daughters … is the mainspring of Christian living … Our sonship to God is the apex of creation and the goal of redemption.” Sinclair Ferguson. As such, all and only those who have received Christ have been legally, effectually, permanently, and at immense cost adopted by God at His sole initiative into His great, loving, though still-flawed family, knowing that God has only one natural Son but many adopted ones (of both genders). As His children, we objectively have (regardless of what we subjectively think or feel) absolute security, confidence, full access to God, and complete assurance that we are indeed loved members of His family, being heirs of all things, all of this being witnessed and confirmed in our individual and corporate lives by the Spirit of God Himself. As members of His family we have the privilege of being corrected and disciplined by and suffering for Him, these things also issuing in our eternal well-being and reward.
Chapter 3 elucidates prayer and circumstances, stating that a similar set of circumstances will work toward vastly different ends for a believer vs. an unbeliever. For a believer, perfect conformity to Christ’s human mind, character, nature, and body is the goal and result of all of life’s divinely providential circumstances. That is not the case for the unbeliever where every circumstance has an ultimately deleterious, non-redemptive, death-dealing effect and impact, barring genuine faith in Christ. In the unbreakable chain of salvation, Keller defines what it means to be foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified by God and the unshakable confidence that there is no possible thing that can separate us from God and His saving love.
Chapter 4 explicates theology that many attempt to detour around or gloss over, much to their hurt, of certain intellectually and spiritually challenging, heart purifying topics. But rather than continuing to summarize this and remaining chapters, it would be to your advantage to get the book and slowly, carefully, prayerfully read it for the many gems of truth it contains.
Strength(s): In a clear, accessible manner, Keller addresses and faithfully clarifies central, major gospel truths found in this section of Romans, unchanging truths that fully apply to all believers in every age (i.e., the nature and being of the God Who is, the remarkable nature of what He has done for us in Christ, and how in light of those truths we ought to live).
Weakness(es): On occasion some wording was confusing, lacking in theological precision, or perhaps not optimally stated. Also, due to its limited length and scope, a number of secondary concepts, ideas, or topics were skimmed over or ignored. Finally, the price may be higher than appropriate for a book of this length.
CONCLUSION & RECOMMENDATION:
This book is a rich, useful, widely accessible, theologically sound exposition of the last nine `chapters’ of Paul’s letter to the Roman church. It achieves its aim of hitting the high points of this letter incisively, accurately, and understandably for most readers, beginner through advanced. In achieving his stated aim, I believe Keller mostly succeeds admirably. Well recommended for all readers. My rating is ~ 4.7 stars. It was provided gratis by the publisher and Cross-Focused Reviews in exchange for my attempt at an honest, balanced, complete, and fair review.