When I read the publicity material for Tom Holland's "Hope for the Nations" and requested a copy for review, I didn't consciously realize that I was in for 464 pages of reading. I should have of course, he is after all writing about the Book of Romans. I am nevertheless really enjoying the read but have to admit up front that I am posting this review before having completed the whole book. I still have a long way to go and it is going to take some time. This is not the sort of book you pick up, read from cover to cover then throw it on the bookshelf and forget about it. It is a book that takes time to read, to think about and appreciate - unless of course you want to disagree with the author's basic assertions. The publicity material for this book says in part:
Dr. Tom Holland proves in his compelling new book, scholarly interpretation of the volume (Romans) has been fraught with misconceptions. Dr. Holland attempts to correct these points of confusion and, in the process, challenge every level of readers' Biblical beliefs. Dr. Holland has produced a ... highly readable analysis, [and] asks the reader to rethink familiar passages in Paul's Letter to the Romans in fresh ways. He corrects many widespread misunderstandings of Paul which have obscured the powerful message of the Biblical text, and his argument for a corporate reading permits the Reformer's forensic sense of justification to be maintained even in the light of the covenantal context of the New Perspective on Paul. Tom Holland's Hope for the Nations is both truly biblical and thoroughly theological. Church leaders, scholars and students alike will find their views on the well-known text challenged and transformed.
I believe that I can write the review prior to finishing the whole work because firstly my Legal and Theological background allows me to quickly grasp the author's concepts which means that I already do understand the value of this work to the ordinary reader and to the scholar. Secondly, the reviewer's job is not meant to be about providing his/her own personal stamp of approval or otherwise on the author's work, but is a commentary about content, style and general 'readability.' One can easily enjoy an author's writing style without enjoying the tale told. Likewise one can enjoy the storyline in an otherwise ineptly written novel.
In the case of this Apostolos Publishing house presentation of Dr. Holland's "Hope for the Nations: Paul's Letter to the Romans," I am enjoying both the style of writing and content and recommend the book for the reasons set out below.
Firstly, unlike some expository material, this book seems to have been written with the ordinary, common, household reader in mind. There is nothing worse than trying to read something that is written in language and expresses concepts that you simply can't get your head around. This book is pretty much a straightforward read and explains what is written in Romans from the author's central perspective. The issue of perspective is an important point because it is the second reason for recommending the book.
Christians often study the Bible -- or perhaps 'theology' without understanding a particular author's theological perspective, and certainly do frequently study without full appreciation for the cultural context in which the books of the Bible were written. Dr. Holland's theological perspective is that when St. Paul wrote the letter to the Romans he was primarily pitching the message to a corporate body of people who 'heard' the message read aloud, as opposed to 'reading' it as a personal message to an individual which would then be understood from the individual's perspective. The message read aloud to the corporate body was received as a corporate message and relied upon a corporate understanding of the foundational premises of that message. And that message was expounded from within a Jewish perspective. At the time the Letter to the Romans was written the church was still predominantly Jewish. Today we don't really have a 'Jewish' perspective of Christ. I could go into more detail but I think it best to let the reader discover those details from the book.
The third reason I recommend this work is because for me, it revitalizes long held thoughts and ideas and does so in succinctly refreshing ways. I was so stirred by the eloquence of the expression of certain ideas that I felt that I was receiving fresh illumination. Whilst this is a personal perspective, for the general reader I can put it like this. The author's 'corporate-Jewish' presentation of Scripture in relation to the work of Christ will probably provide you with a far deeper understanding of the work of Christ and reveal to you the real significance of the manner in which that work was carried out.
I think that this book will benefit every person who is seeking to understand Christ and his Redemptive Mission. By way of example, on Page 101 the author explains the exact nature of God's covenant with Abraham and points out that whereas both parties to a covenant had to swear to fulfill their obligations, the Abrahamic covenant was sworn only by God himself, so that if the covenant was broken in any way it would be he himself who was bound to suffer the covenant curses. Therefore when Abraham's descendants broke the covenant, it was God himself who had to pay the penalty. This is by no means a new concept but the author's straightforward exposition really illuminates the understanding of the 'Passover Sacrifice.' Christ suffered the curse thereby allowing God to impute righteouness to the people and his blood protects all those sealed by it from the judgment on sin.
I have a long way to go in finishing this book, but it is extremely obvious to me that both the author's writing and expository style are delightful and illuminating. His presentation on the 'Law' and 'Circumcision' will surely be understood by everyone as will his explanation of the significance of 'Passover' and 'Atonement.'
This book does not seem to be specifically designed for scholars and theology students. It is not a complicated read. This is not to say of course that I fully agree with all concepts expressed. In fact I find myself at odds with the author on one very important theological point but I am not going to bore you with that. It is a point which most scholars fail to see and I hope in time someone will come along and provide fresh illumination on that matter as this author has on the Jewish perspective of the Letter to the Romans.
To the author may I say: "Well done sir!"
M. W. Johnson
Post Script: It is my personal belief that most Christians today have, and most Christian Preachers today preach, a poor quality imitation of Christianity. "Hope for the Nations" is not some fresh revelation of Christ but rather the 'meat of the Word of God.' It's purpose is to help the reader UNDERSTAND. See: 1 Cor 3:1-3 & Hebrews 5:12
Tom Holland is Senior Research Fellow in Biblical studies at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology. He has a DipTh from Cambridge, a BD from London and a PhD from the University of Wales. Before entering academia he founded and pastored two churches in Hertfordshire, England. His previous books include the internationally acclaimed 'Contours of Pauline Theology' and 'Romans: The Divine Marriage', and Tom teaches and preaches in Universities, seminaries and churches around the world. He is married to Barbara and they have three daughters and five grandchildren.
"Hope for the Nations: Paul's Letter to the Romans"
by Dr. Tom Holland
Apostolos Publishing Ltd
Published August 3, 2015
'Hope for the Nations (A Corporate Reading)' United Kingdom.
- ISBN: 978-1-910942-00-0 (Paperback, 462 pages perfect bound -- RRP £19.99)
- ISBN: 978-1-910942-01-7 (ebook -- RRP £9.99)
- Ebook available from all good ebook retailers from 1st September