Agony and ecstasy—12 months of turmoil, disaster, death, rescue, victory, and celebration
This year for the first time we are recognizing a series, the publication of which requires great perseverance. Chartres Cathedral took 25 years to build, Salisbury Cathedral 45 (except for the spire), Notre Dame de Paris 100, and Cologne Cathedral 600. By those standards, P&R Publishing’s 30-year plan to publish a Reformed Expository Commentary (REC) series covering all 66 books of the Bible is not record-setting. By American publishing standards, though, it’s audacious.
The first REC publication was in 2005. Twelve years later, P&R has put out 26 volumes covering 29 Bible books. Editors Richard Phillips, Philip Ryken, Iain Duguid, and Daniel Doriani deserve congratulations: Both quantity and quality are impressive. The REC goal is not to be another heavy academic or light devotional series, but to exhibit strong expository preaching. Each commentary is made up of coherent units that work for sermons or Bible lessons, and all of the contributors are pastor-scholars who have preached through the books.
Good editing has removed some of the gas that can turn sermons into blimps, but they still have the feel of good preaching, not academic reaching. On weekdays my wife Susan and I walk and listen to WORLD’s podcast The World and Everything in It and follow that with Albert Mohler’s The Briefing. On weekends, though, we listen to excellent podcast sermons by Tim Keller and Kevin DeYoung—and REC commentaries have the same feel of a Keller or DeYoung delving into whole books of the Bible. That makes the series ideal for a church library where pastors and Bible study teachers can dig into it.
Each commentary is made up of coherent units that work for sermons or Bible lessons.
Richard Phillips’ Revelation commentary is a good test of the approach. The book’s drama is familiar not only to Bible readers but to fans of the Left Behind series (more than 65 million copies sold) as well as The Book of Revelation for Dummies: four horsemen of the apocalypse, seven seals, plagues and disasters, Antichrist, Armageddon, Christ’s return, a new Jerusalem! But Phillips sees the visions of Revelation as more important than fodder for cable television specials or puzzles for scholars.
Instead, he illuminates John’s vision, such as his examination of the dragon, the woman, and her child in Chapter 12: “A wife is never more beautiful and precious to her husband as when she is carrying his child. And nothing so stirs up manly protectiveness as the image of his pregnant wife. … The church is the mother to God’s covenant children, and we are to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. … He is the strong, loving, and faithful Father who will keep the mother of all his children safe.”
Phillips stands with the redemptive-historical and amillennial interpretation of Revelation, yet he appreciates the work of premillennial and postmillennial scholars. His practical application is clear: With “spreading, virtually worldwide opposition to biblical Christianity,” Revelation is “the book especially designed by the Sovereign Christ to convey strength for perseverance unto spiritual victory.”
Overall, REC is explicitly Reformed, but it pushes up from Scripture and not down from a systematic theology chart. Phillips concludes, concerning Revelation 12, “Everything in the world that is contrary to God and his Word—whether sexual immorality, secularist ideology, or consumer idolatry—is a weapon forged by Satan to afflict mankind and oppose Christ and his church. When pressed to conform to worldly ways, we should see the devil’s hand at work and resolutely refuse to aid and abet the enemy of our King.”
This review is part of WORLD’s 2017 Books of the Year issue.