Friday, October 23, 2015

Book Review: The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament

When I received this book from the publisher, I was slightly daunted—over 900 pages of careful, scholarly investigation into the New Testament. But the daunting turns to satisfaction page after page. Each segment, each NT book, each subsection (History, Literature, Theology), treats our New Covenant document with humbled admiration and diligence. Indeed, at the start of the book they remind readers:

“’All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work,’ and the student of Scripture must…’be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.’”

They recognize their intended audience to be ‘the teacher and the student’—so they write in a manner ‘scholarly yet accessible,’ and hope to aid the teacher in showing the student that “The NT, with its 27 books, presents both a wonderful, God-given treasure trove of spiritual insights and a formidable challenge for faithful, accurate interpretation.

The book is broken into five sections: Introduction, Gospels, Early Church & Paul, General Epistles & Revelation, Conclusion. Which is, of course, pretty standard. The conclusion, unlike some others deals with ‘diversity in unity’ in the New Testament—an helpful discussion for any student of Scripture. Each book-focused chapter is subdivided into an Introduction; History, Literature, and Theology sections; a Conclusion, Study Questions, and Further Resources. The History section deals with the necessary presumed issues of authorship, etc. The Literature section offers a unit-by-unit discussion, tracing the flow of the book. And the Theology section offers a brief discussion on various theological themes. Throughout the chapter also offer numerous sidebar articles throughout which highlight interesting details, dichotomies, and spiritual meditations. They include a section on the book’s contribution to the canon.. At the beginning of each chapter they offer at-a-glance key facts as well as an objectives list—preparing readers to look for and understand certain elements. Notably they offer three different levels for these objectives lists: Basic/Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced.

Oddly enough, this feature was one of the most helpful and encouraging. Grading knowledge levels is an apt reminder that the New Testament is a “treasure trove…and a formidable challenge.” It reminded me that I don’t know all the answers, and that even if I learned them briefly through my reading, I would likely forget them when I had finished. It offers milestones for the reader—perhaps they plan to go through the New Testament once per year. In year 1, they focus on the Beginner objectives. In year 2, they take a look at the study questions in the back and answer them. If they discover their ‘Basic Knowledge’ is adequate they focus on an Intermediate grasp, etc. Similarly, for teachers in university/seminary courses, it becomes easy to encourage students and explain expectations while giving the extra-motivated student a goal to achieve.

When the authors prepared this book (2009), they explained what they thought made The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown distinctive from other NT Introductions (which they appropriately praised. And so it is by their own scale which I grade their book now.

  1. User-friendly. 100% (In accessibility, not simplicity.)
  2. Comprehensive. 100% (In scope, not depth.)
  3. Conservative. 100% (In scholarship, not in politics, and not fundamentalist.)
  4. Balanced. 90%
  5. Up-do-date. 95%
  6. Spiritually nurturing and application oriented. 100%

I say that they are not quite perfect in balance (by which they describe as pertaining to more than date, provenance, authorship, destination but theological themes as well), because while they are certainly better than some other Introductions, I found myself wanting a bit more literature and a bit more theology—whether through intertextuality themes & biblical theology. Of course, I have to temper my desires with the books purpose as an introduction. And so I recognize that they do balance incredibly well… I guess I just want to be unbalanced—on the other side.

I listed up-to-date at 95% due to no fault of the others; it’s simply the reality of contributing to humanity’s understanding in time. Time moves past us, and there are new works out. I do not believe that there are any problems with the body of text, arguments, conclusions, etc. Instead, the recommended resources are now 6 years lacking.

I want to offer one more area for improvement, again understanding limitations of adding to a 900+ page book. I would like to see more room for creative presentation. The authors certainly present countless charts and tables, and a few maps here and there, but I would like to see the biblical data represented in new ways that reveal things about the text or assist the learning process. Perhaps even Flowcharts of Pauline arguments and rhetoric. “If yes, then…., If no, then…”

I want to end this review by widening the intended audience. Most who buy this book will be teachers and students. I think that is too limited. I encourage new members in my church that they should include in their monthly budget an amount for knowing God better. For some it might be as little as five or ten dollars per month. But if we as Christians truly believe the grandeur and grace of God, we ought to be willing to set aside money to know him better. This book’s listing is $59.99, but of course cheaper at certain locations. I can’t tell you how to use your money, but what I can say is

If you don’t have a good, foundational resource to help you understand the New Testament, this one can fill that void.

I don’t imagine you’ll read it start to finish. But if you keep it close to your Bible, you can take a few minutes each time you read from the New Testament to better grasp the whole.

I recommend this book to any Christians who want to understand the New Testament better. Pastors, small group leaders, the retired, the lay Christian, college students.

10/10 stars, 5/5 with no caveats.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
This review is crosslisted on Amazon and Goodreads.