2019 Book List, Part One (Romans)
2019 Book List, Part One (Romans)
It’s time once again for my end-of-year book list. Unlike previous years, this year’s list will be divided into two parts because I dedicated half the year to reading up on the interpretation of Romans from contemporary scholars.

1. Preaching Romans: Four Perspectives, Edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph Modica (2019)

This was the book that rekindled my interest in Romans this year. For years, I’ve read about the New Perspective from authors like Wright and McKnight, but how does it stack up against the other ways of interpreting Romans when it comes to preaching? It seemed to me that the Lutheran, Law/Gospel perspective had all the good homiletics. So my primary interest in reading this book was to see how the New Perspective really preaches. But, I also have to admit that I was very curious how the Apocalyptic perspective preaches in comparison to the Lutheran and New Perspectives. I was shocked at how poorly it preaches—considering the grandiose boasts of its most vocal online proponents. But the real MVP of this book is the Participationist perspective. Check out my more detailed review.

2. Reading Romans Backwards: A Gospel of Peace in the Midst of Empire by Scot McKnight (2019)

Scot McKnight’s essay in Preaching Romans led me to read Reading Romans Backwards. It was the most helpful and challenging book I read on Romans this year. By starting with the latter chapters, where the specific context into which Paul is speaking is more clearly spelled out, the letter is freed from the systematic, Reformed theology its been imprisoned in for nearly 500 years. And by placing the conflict between the so-called ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ at the forefront of our interpretation, themes of honor, shame, power, and privilege come alive in the Text. Not only that, but our imaginations are set ablaze for contemporary analogues and challenges this letter provides wisdom to confront. Check out my more detailed review.

3. Conformed to the Image of His Son: Reconsidering Paul’s Theology of Glory by Haley Gorason Jacob (2018)

A lot of biblical scholars and theologians will agree that the pinnacle of Romans is chapter 8, and within chapter 8 few phrases summarize the destiny of God’s people more completely than “conformed to the image of his Son.” This phrase is associated in the Text with “glorification.” But Gorason Jacob discovered that there is no real consensus and very little in-depth study of “glory” among even the best resources on Romans. So she set out to study the subject, and this book is a thorough examination. Far from a beach read, this book can be highly technical at points, heavy on Greek, and dense with theological exposition. However, for a dissertation-level study, it’s surprisingly readable. Students looking into Paul’s theology of glory from this point on will need to read this book.

4. Honor, Patronage, Kinship, and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture by David DeSilva (2000)

One of the primary reasons I embarked upon a teaching series of Romans this year was because I became convinced that my previous exposure to Romans, both in the academy and churches, was highly de-contextualized. The more I learned about the letter, the more themes of honor, shame, power, and privilege rose to the surface. To understand the cultural context of Romans better, I’ve found few books that are as concise and approachable as this offering by David DeSilva. I highly recommend it to students of the New Testament.

5. Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part 1 and 2 by N. T. Wright (2005)

While this is technically two books, I read them together, as I’m sure they’re meant to be read. And they were very helpful when I was stuck on a passage that didn’t make sense to me. In his For Everyone series, Wright has a brilliant way of communicating profound theological insights for a lay audience. These books are wonderful for small group studies and there are even discussion guide companions.

6. Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes: Honor and Shame in Paul’s Message and Mission by Jackson W. (2019)

Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes was excellent at drawing out the themes of honor and shame where they weren’t apparent to me. This book is perfect for those who recognize that they have a cultural lens that comes from their social location and are willing to look into their blindspots. This book will likely frustrate people entrenched in Western Individualism who don’t realize how blinded they really are. I’ve encountered many who fit this description, and they will likely dismiss this book as irrelevant or worse. But, in my opinion, this is the kind of book that we need more of.

7. Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism, Edited by Ben C. Blackwell, John K. Goodrich, Jason Maston, and Francis Watson (2015)

As a compilation of essays, this book is more suited for use as a resource. I found myself reading from it when I came to a passage in Romans with which I was wrestling. The insights of Second Temple Judaism were eye-opening. This book provided another layer of cultural and historical context to my study of Romans. I think it will continue to be a valuable resource for me in the future.

8. Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice by Sylvia C. Keesmaat and Brian J. Walsh (2019)

After Reading Romans Backwards, Romans Disarmed was the most helpful book I read on Romans this year. It was also the book I was looking forward to reading most. The authors of this book are a married couple who also authored Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, which was a landmark work for so many of us who are reading the New Testament in light of the parallels between ancient Rome and modern America. But Romans Disarmed isn’t just recycled empire criticism. Although it certainly contains a healthy dose of that too. But what really made this book unforgettable for me was the imaginative narrative parts. Keesmaat and Walsh plunge readers into first-century Rome and into the lives of members of the house churches. The authors guide you through what it must have been like for enslaved disciples of Jesus to hear the letter from Paul read aloud by Phoebe for the first time. What questions would they have likely asked? What insights would they have likely had that we lack today? This was theological exploration at its best. I highly recommend this book to those studying Romans!

9. Reading Romans in Pompeii: Paul’s Letter at Ground Level by Peter Oakes (2013)

Like DeSilva, Keesmaat, and Walsh, Oakes wants readers of Romans to understand the first-century Roman world. What better way than through the immense amount of historical and cultural knowledge we’ve literally unearthed in Pompeii. The insights that we’ve gleaned from archeological and anthropological studies of this ancient Roman city give us another window into what ancient readers of Romans would have been like and what they would have thought about it. This is a welcomed historical and cultural resource along side the others on this list.

10. When in Romans: An Invitation to Linger with the Gospel According to Paul by Beverly Roberts Gaventa (2018)

Unlikely many of the other books on this list, Gaventa’s book isn’t about delving deeply into the historical or cultural context to find new insights about what first-century Rome was like. Instead, Gaventa’s book seeks instead to invite us to delve more deeply into how the message of Romans confronts and comforts us today. She brings a wonderful blend of homiletical and poetic prose to her writing style and it makes for a very enjoyable reading experience. (There are few books on Romans one can say that about!) One of the most memorable parts of this book for me was the nicknames Gaventa gave to the so-called ‘weak’ and ‘strong.’ I laughed out loud when she called them the “lettuce-eaters” and the “garbage-bellies.” This is a great book for casual readers of Romans and preachers alike.