Book Review: Romans: A Self-Study Guide

Romans:  A Self-Study Guide, by Irving L. Jensen

As someone who enjoys reading Bible study guides [1], it should not be too unexpected that my attention should turn to those books readily available around me.  In fact, as our congregation’s pastor is more than halfway through a lengthy study on the book of Romans, it is more surprising that there have been fewer of these guides and commentaries about Romans that have been read and reviewed so far.  At any rate, I am getting around to my commentaries on the book of Romans now, and this one was a fairly easy one to read and one which demonstrates the sort of approach that many writers have to the book of Romans.  This is true in both good and bad ways, in ways that demonstrate that people are reading Romans but also misunderstanding it at least in part.  Writing a book like this tells as much of how we see God’s word as it says about God’s word itself, a word of caution that many writers ignore to their peril.

Like many books of its kind, this particular volume is short, at just over 100 pages, and is divided into lessons under the assumption that it will take a considerable amount of time to get through Romans.  In this particular case, like in many series, there is an introduction to the Bible and to Paul’s Epistles (which serves as the first lesson) that would likely remain close to constant throughout the whole series.  After this there are thirteen additional lessons that cover the materials of the book, with titles that let the reader know that the author has at least some clue what the book is talking about and at least some of the more important passage divisions, as well as the larger divisions of book between a look at how all mankind is condemned, how it is that God works with regards to salvation, and the nature of the practical obligations of Christian faith for believers.  The result is a study that has a lot of room for the reader to ponder and study the book of Romans, even if the author does not know the book as well as he thinks he does, which is a common issue in a book like this.  We cannot, after all, teach people what we do not know exactly as an object lesson.

What is it that this book understands best and worst?  Well, there are a few areas where this book does a good job–understanding that Paul’s phraseology is immensely challenging is a good start, as well as understanding that no one enters into salvation by virtue of his or her own merits, and that following God and Christ requires a certain degree of action on our part.  All of this is well and good.  Yet the author makes a common attack on the law of God itself.  Simply because the law cannot save us, a purpose it never had in the eyes of the lawgiver itself, does not mean that the law is null and void for contemporary believers.  To be sure, there are many laws that are not enforced because of the absence of godly magistrates, but the actual change in law between the OT and NT is not as profound as one might think, and most of those changes that exist magnify the law and make its demands even greater–as is the case in Matthew 5.  A book like this is worthwhile to the extent that one knows as much or more than the author does as Romans, because it would be too easy to go astray into the thickets of antinomianism otherwise.  Yet such is the case with all too many books.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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