Book Review: Communicating the Gospel (William Barclay).

Resurrection of Christ
Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a teenager I discovered William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible commentaries series and I have remained a fan of his ever since. I have all of his commentaries on the New Testament and numerous of his other writings. Barclay has had a profound impact on both my thought and my character.

Barclay lived from 1907-1978 and in addition to writing many books he served as a pastor, spoke on BBC radio and television, and was a Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow. Barclay considered himself a “liberal evangelical” – moving from fundamentalist moves earlier in life to more liberal views as life progressed. There are many facets of Barclay’s theology with which I cannot agree – and I am hesitant to recommend his books to new Christians because of the various theological heresies he embraces.

This is one reason why one of my long-term dreams is to write a new series of commentaries (on the entire bible) that will act in a similar manner to Barclay’s commentaries but from an orthodox evangelical view. That said, I still read Barclay and learn much from him and thinks he has much to teach us as well. I would not recommend him as a first book for the new believer – at least not without a more seasoned believer providing insight and commentary throughout the reading – but I find him practically indispensable as a preacher and teacher.

In any case, I recently picked up his book entitled Communicating the Gospel which clocks in at a slim 106 pages and consists of several lectures he gave at the Laird Lectures and the last a lecture given to “a joint audience of Protestants and Roman Catholics in a series of lectures arranged by the Extra-Mural Department of the University.” (xi)

Communicating the Gospel consists of four chapters:

  • Communicating the Gospel in the Prophets
  • Communicating the Gospel in the Apostles
  • Communicating the Gospel Today
  • The Gospel in Tradition

Communicating the Gospel in the Prophets

This first chapter I found invaluable. Barclay provides invaluable insights into the Old Testament Prophetic understanding of the gospel. He helps us dive into the worldview of the ancient prophets. For example on pg. 2 he writes,

“To the prophets, nature was the instrument of the action of God. Disobedience to God brought the blight and the mildew and the locust to ruin their crops, the pestilence and disaster (Amos 4. 10-12).”

And continues on pg. 3, “But the principle which is all-important is this–to the Jewish mind there was no such thing as secondary causes. Everything was traceable to the direct action of God.”

Barclay challenges our meek and mild Jesus when he writes on pg. 5, “The main weapon which the prophets used against idolatry was scorn. They drew, always with vividness, and sometimes with Homeric laughter, the contrast between the dead idol and the living God.”

On pg. 8 he highlights the recurrent problem of the Israelite people – “The people wanted a religious syncretism in which they could worship Jahweh and at the same time maintain their contact with the fertility gods and goddesses and their worship.”

He writes to us about the Day of the Lord – which can be equated with the New Testament affirmations regarding the End Times noting, “The belief in the Day of the Lord is not the result of pessimism, based on the belief in a godless world; it is the result of that optimism which believes in the ultimate victory of God.” (pg. 19)

But don’t expect just information transfer from Barclay – as always he takes knowledge and transforms it into a call for action. The challenges facing the Old Testament peoples are the same challenges we face today he says and then goes on to explicitly show us how we as well are tempted in the ways they were – even if we don’t have wooden or stone idols.

Communicating the Gospel in the Apostles

This is another excellent chapter. Let me provide just a little glimpse by outlining what Barclay believed was the Gospel as taught by the Apostles:

  1. “The new age has dawned, and it has dawned through the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (pg. 35)
    1. Life changed forever for children.
    2. Life changed forever for women.
    3. Life changed forever for the laborer.
    4. Life changed forever for the sinner.
  2. “The life, the death, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, all that he was and did, all that happened to him, are the direct fulfilment of prophecy.” (pg. 40)
  3. “…the declaration that Jesus Christ has ascended to the right hand of God and that he would come again to judge the quick and the dead.” (pg. 43)
  4. “…an invitation and a promise. It is an invitation in view of all this to repent, and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (pg. 46)

He summarizes this on pg. 48,

“This, then, was the gospel which the apostolic preaching proclaimed. The new age has dawned; God has acted directly in the life and the dead and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. All this is the fulfilment of prophecy and the very conception of prophecy implies a plan and a purpose which are being steadily worked out in the world. This Jesus who lived and died and rose again will come again; he will come to the individual heart, and in the end he will triumph over all the world. There comes the demand for repentance, for a new attitude to life and to living, and the promise of forgiveness for the past and strength for the future. And finally there comes the threat that, if a man will not accept life, then he has accepted death.”

Note: Barclay’s understanding of prophecy is fascinating and liberal. Yet many who struggle with faith may also find some comfort in Barclay’s honest struggles to understand the use of prophecy in the NT.

Communicating the Gospel Today

This chapter is good, but not quite indispensable. Here, the writing is in part limited by its age – the issues Barclay is addressing (e.g. contemporary translations of Scripture) are not nearly the issues today as they were then.

Still, he starts off strong by stating, “I take it that all here will be agreed that the task of the Christian Church in this, as in any other, age is to communicate to men the truth of God as we find it in the word of God.” (pg. 49)

He then outlines what he believes are the necessary steps to effectively communicating the gospel contemporaneously:

  1. “…we must approach it as literature. It is the fact that anyone who has not read the Bible is simply from the literary point of view not properly educated.” (pg. 50)
    1. Thus we should read it in long sections.
    2. We need contemporary translations.
    3. We should use the best textual sources available.
  2. “…approach…must be the linguistic approach…one of the essential approaches to the New Testament is the study of the meaning of its words.” (pg. 56) He provides us with several word studies to demonstrate this importance: “meek” (praotes), “earnest” (arrabon), Abba, and “comforter” (parakletos).
  3. “…approach which is necessary is the historical approach. Everything happens against a background in history, and to know that background often adds very greatly to the meaning of the incident.” (pg. 60) Here he provides us with fascinating insights into John 2:13-17, 7:37, 8:12; Matthew 21:12,13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46; and Revelation 3:15-18.
  4. “…approach necessary to communication the New Testament is the psychological approach. The psychological approach involves the investigation of, not only what people did, but why they did it.” (pg. 67) He uses here the example of Judas and his motivations for betraying Jesus.

In conclusion Barclay states, “Here is the reason for the study of the New Testament, not that we should know the history or the linguistics or anything else, but that we should know him of whom it tells; for we can never communicate Jesus Christ to others, until we know him ourselves.” (pg. 71)

The Gospel in Tradition

This is probably the least interesting of the chapters from a quick reading perspective, but filled with useful information from an academic and apologetic perspective. In this chapter Barclay attempts to explain the varying understandings of the relationship between tradition and Scripture as seen by Catholics and Protestants and does so in large part by comparing and contrasting the thoughts of Christians in the early church. One will find a veritable treasure of quotations from such minds as Tyndale and Erasmus, Gregory Nazianzen, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Chrysostom, Jerome, and Athenagoras.

There are some fascinating sections on how one should read the Scriptures form an ancient perspective – e.g. which books to read first, which books one should not read until adulthood, and whether one should read with a teacher present or no.

Concluding Thoughts

This book is a worthwhile read. It is written in a readable manner that those who have read Barclay elsewhere will find familiar and comfortable. How do I reconcile my respect for William Barclay with his errant teachings? I’m not sure. Some good articles have been written on the topic including Alton H. McEachern’s William Barclay, Remarkable Communicator and Wayne Jackson’s The Enigmatic William Barclay. I suppose, perhaps, I feel about William Barclay as John Piper feels about C.S. Lewis…not that I am comparing my abilities to those of Piper!

Study Bibles.

Introduction

This post is a review of the currently available study bibles. These are English translations of the Old and New Testaments found in the Christian Bible that include notes, maps, cross-references, and other features that delineate them as a “study” bible. At the time I performed this aggregation (1/16/12) there were 1,127 results for study bibles on Christian Book Distributor’s website.1I also utilized Amazon’s site. A search for “study bible” on the same day filtered down to include only books returned 10,309 results. I reviewed 528 of these results, after which time I was fairly confident I had located most of the major study bibles and a few of the smaller ones. I have attempted to compile almost all of them below – excluding study bible’s which differ only by translation or are foreign language. I’ve also excluded a number of others which I include at the bottom in a list for anyone interested in performing further research.

Options

Bible: Versions: Notes: Visuals:(1) Cross-Refs: Concordance: Book Intros: Published:
MacArthur Study Bible NKJV, NASB, ESV 25,000 140+ 80,000 Yes Yes 1997
ESV Study Bible ESV 20,000 440+ 80,000 2009
Zondervan Study Bible NASB, NIV 20,000 80 100,000 Yes Yes 1999
Life Application Study Bible NIV, NLT, NKJV, NASB
Archaeological Study Bible NIV, KJV
NLT Study Bible NLT
Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible
NASB New Inductive Study Bible NASB
Scofield Study Bible (Original) KJV
Scofield Study Bible (Revised)
Scofield Study Bible (III) NIV
NRSV New Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV
C.S. Lewis Bible NRSV 2010
ESV Reformation Study Bible ESV
Transformation Study Bible NLT
The Orthodox Study Bible
HCSB Study Bible
Serendipity Bible
Ryrie Study Bible NASB, KJV
The Jewish Study Bible 2011
The Literary Study Bible
NET Bible
The New Interpreter’s Study Bible NRSV 2003
The Wesley Study Bible
The Harper Collins Study Bible NRSV
The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible

Other Notes About Versions

  • MacArthur Study Bible – Written by Rev. John MacArthur. MacArthur is well-known for his evangelical commentaries and controversial position on lordship salvation. This study bible takes a premillennial eschatological position and a limited atonement interpretation.
  • ESV Study Bible – Includes 50 articles.
  • Zondervan Study Bible – Includes articles.

Other Options

The following for various subjective reasons where not included in this list…if you believe these offer some distinctive feature which should be included please let me know and I will reconsider…

The Chronological Study Bible KJV Study Bible The New Defender’s Study Bible New Spirit Filled Life Bible (aka FIRE Bible) The Charles Stanley Life Principles Bible
Rainbow Study Bible Life in the Spirit Study Bible The American Patriot’s Bible HCSB Apologetics Study Bible The Geneva Bible.
Quest Study Bible Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible Thompson Chain Reference Bible The Evidence Bible Prophecy Study Bible.
Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible Cambridge Study Bible Lutheran Study Bible African Heritage Study Bible. The King James Study Bible, 400th Anniversary Edition (Thomas Nelson, 2010).
Faith in Action Study Bible. The Matthew Henry Bible. HCSB Life Essentials Study Bible. The Case for Christ Study Bible. The Maxwell Leadership Bible.
The Master Study Bible. The Revival Study Bible. Living Water Bible. NRSV Access Bible. Life Lessons Study Bible.
The New American Catholic Study Bible. Mission of God Study Bible Harper Study Bible. Stewardship Study Bible. Blackaby Study Bible
Comparative Study Bible. Andrews Study Bible. Full Life Study Bible. Life for Today. Praise and Worship Study Bible.
Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible. The Inspirational Study Bible. The Journey. Little Rock Catholic Study Bible. Faith in Action Study Bible.
Reflecting God Study Bible. Discover God Study Bible. The Everyday Study Bible. Disciple’s Study Bible. The Discipleship Study Bible.
The People’s Study Bible. The Life Plan Study Bible. Prophecy Study Bible. The Legacy Study Bible. The Henry Morris Study Bible.
The Experiencing God Study Bible. The Discover Study Bible. The Living Insights Study Bible. The Expositor’s Study Bible. Cambridge Annotated Study Bible.
The Message Study Bible. The A.W. Tozer Bible. Concordia Self-Study Bible.

Amplifications

  • The Expanded Bible (Thomas Nelson, 2011).
  • Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible (Kregel Publications, 1994).

Bibliography:

Theological Journals.

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's
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A collection of some theological journals with annotations…

  • Doon Theological Journal – based out of India, offers only article abstracts, but titles of many are very fascinating – focusing on post-colonial theology amongst other topics.
  • American Theological Inquiry: A Biannual Journal of Theology, Culture, and History – includes the full articles for free, a lot of fascinating titles – significant focus on post-modernism, seems to include a wide variety of authors from varying religious traditions within the Christian faith.
  • Seat of Wisdom: A Theological and Pastoral Journal – a relatively new journal, from the Roman Catholic Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, offers full articles online.
  • Themelios: An International Journal for Students of Theological and Religious Studies – offered by The Gospel Coalition, takes an evangelical standpoint, offers articles by well-known evangelical scholars (e.g. D.A. Carson), available for free online. Here are a few articles I’m looking forward to reading:
    • Garrett, Stephen M. “The Dazzling Darkness of God’s Triune Love: Introducing Evangelicals to the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar.” Vol. 35, Issue 3.
    • Atherstone, Andrew. “Divine Retribution: A Forgotten Doctrine?” Vol. 34, Issue 1.
    • Schreiner, Thomas T. “A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality.” Vol. 31, Issue 3.
    • Briggs, Richard S. “Gender and God-Talk: Can We Call God ‘Mother'” Vol. 29, Issue 2.
    • Crisp, Oliver. “On Barth’s Denial of Universalism.” Vol. 29, Issue 1.
    • Tasker, R.V.G. “Biblical Doctrine of the Wrath of God (Part 2).” Vol. 26, Issue 3.
    • Tasker, R.V.G. “Biblical Doctrine of the Wrath of God (Part 1).” Vol. 26, Issue 2.
    • Groothius, Daniel. “The Postmodern Challenge to Theology.” Vol. 25, Issue 1.
    • Lilley, J.P.U. “The Judgement of God: The Problem of the Canaanites.” Vol. 22, Issue 2.
    • Gray, Tony. “Destroyed For Ever: An Examination of the Debates Concerning Annihilation and Conditional Immortality.” Vol. 21, Issue 2.
    • Beckwith, Roger. “Intertestamental Judaism, its Literature and its Significance.” Vol. 15, Issue 3.
    • Travis, Stephen H. “The Problem of Judgement.” Vol. 11, Issue 2.
    • Alexander, Desmond. “The Old Testament View of Life After Death.” Vol. 11, Issue 2.
    • Harris, Murray J. “The New Testament View of Life After Death.” Vol. 11, Issue 2.
    • Smeeton, Donald Dean. “Hans Kung: The Architect of Radical Catholicism.” Vol. 7, Issue 2.
    • Davis, Stephen T. “God the Mad Scientist: Process Theology on God and Evil.” Vol. 5, Issue 1.
    • Wright, N.T. “Towards a Biblical View of Universalism.” Vol. 4, Issue 2.
    • Blum, Edwin A. “Shall you not surely die.” Vol. 4, Issue 2.
    • Bauckham, Richard. “Universalism: a Historical Study.” Vol. 4, Issue 2.
  • Reformed Theological Journal – from the faculty of the Reformed Theological Journal. Some volumes tables of contents are available online and the entire volumes available for purchase.
  • Theological Studies Inc.– A Catholic journal, around fifty years of articles online for free.
    • McKenzie, John L. “A New Study of Theodore of Mopsuestia.” 10.3.
    • Harvey, John F. “Homosexuality as a Pastoral Problem.” 16.1.
    • Dyer, George J. “Limbo: A Theological Evaluation.” 19.1.
    • Clarke, Thomas E. “St. Augustine and Cosmic Redemption.” 19.2.
    • Bligh, John. “Principalities and Powers.” 23.1.
    • Clarke, Thomas E. “The Problem of Evil: A New Study.” 28.1.
    • Ring, George C. “The Death of the Immortals.” 3.2.
    • Peter, Carl J. “Renewal of Peace and the Problem of God.” 30.3.
    • Hill, William J. “Does God Know the Future? Aquinas and Some Moderns.” 36.1.
    • Burns, J. Patout. “The Concept of Satisfaction in Medieval Redemption Theory.” 36.2.
    • Burns, J. Patout. “The Economy of Salvation: Two Patristic Traditions.” 37.4.