How I Choose Commentaries

commentariesAfter I posted my annual review of the books I heard and read over the past year, an acquaintance asked me how I chose the commentaries I use. I gave it a bit of a think, and though I have no particular “method,” I thought I would share what I have learned over the years anyways. Maybe it will be helpful.

I’ll start from the beginning.

Within just a few months after the Lord saved me in college, my thirst for biblical knowledge began to increase enormously. I quickly amassed a small shelf’s worth of theological books, and because my discernment was profoundly immature, I unwittingly gathered books from a variety of authors, some good, some not so good. I was also persuaded by the study philosophy I was picking up from my favorite pastors, like John MacArthur, that said if I planned to teach a book from the Bible, I need to get every commentary on that particular book I can get my hands on.

It took me a little time to figure this out, but honestly, such a philosophy, though well-intentioned, does have its practical limitations. To the point, I only had so much room in my house for book shelves, and so much room for books on those shelves. If I wanted to pick-up commentaries, I would have to be more selective in what I purchased.

Now, certainly ebooks, Logos, Bible Works, and Kindles have helped with the collection of an extensive theological library. I am personally not a big fan of ebooks. Maybe in the future for those wishing to persuade me. I just have a love affair with the way a book, especially a weighty, technical commentary, feels in my hands and the pages flip with my fingers. Odd, I know; but it’s me and I am not changing anytime soon.

At any rate, rather than buying physical books that sit on a shelf taking up wall space in your living room, books can now be collected electronically. The number is merely limited to your electronic storage space, which, unlike your house, can be expanded almost indefinitely. So a person can have upwards from 5 to 50 shelves worth of books on his Kindle that he can take with him anywhere.

However, even with the growing popularity of ebooks, the electronic commentaries can be pricey. That is especially true for the editions that sync with Logos or Bible Works so that they are searchable. If you are a normal guy like myself, and you have limited funds, you still want to use some wisdom when it comes to purchasing commentaries.

I have always wanted to have at least one or two commentaries on every book of the Bible. That seemed easy enough to obtain and would give me roughly 132 books I needed to keep shelved. Obviously, some books of the Bible may have more choices with commentaries than others, say for example Romans as opposed to Obadiah.  Moreover, the study philosophy I have developed is to have at least 3 or 4 really good commentaries on a particular book I plan to study and teach. Because the bulk of my study is from the NT, I have more commentaries on the NT than the OT.  Still, I have learned to narrow my choices down in order to have what would be the best offerings I can find.

One of the first things I learned was to read the bibliography of those pastors or teachers who put out an excellent commentary on whatever book of the Bible. They had to have prepared themselves, so I was curious as to what authors influenced their thinking to write their own commentary. When I would pick up one of the Lloyd-Jones’s commentaries for instance, I would look in the back to read who he consulted for his studied. I’d make a list, and once I had the opportunity to physically review the books on my list, I would pick those commentaries I thought were especially detailed and full of good information.

And in turn I would search those bibliography for even more recommendations. Over time, as I taught Bible studies and preached, I would begin to develop favorite writers who offered a lot to my preparation. For instance, I believe D. Edmond Hiebert is entirely underrated and under appreciated.  He wrote a handful of commentaries for the NT, and everyone of them is just absolutely outstanding. Homer Kent is another good author whose commentaries are small and sometimes woefully short, but always packed with great information. Yet, even with this method, I can only go so far because I could potentially run across a ton of excellent commentaries and again, I reach my shelf limitation.

It has also been helpful to have a world-class theological seminary and Bible college library at my disposal because I can check out the commentaries under consideration, and use them a bit to determine if there is any one I would want permanently. Not everyone has the privilege of a seminary library in your backyard, but if you do, I would recommend availing yourself of it as much as possible.

Thankfully, the internet has provided a platform for reviewers and there is a website called, Best Commentaries. It is a consortium of reviewers who rank the best commentaries around categories like “exegetical” and “devotional” etc. In fact, this is probably the number one recommended source because the site is extremely user-friendly, maintains a section for reviewers for both OT and NT books, and links you to even more good lists of recommended commentaries like Detroit Theological Seminary and Jim Rosscup’s commentaries for expositors. But even that website has a few short-comings and commentaries that are “ranked” low I just shake my head over. Hiebert’s stuff is not even mentioned. I find that to be a joke.

Ultimately, I would encourage young students to discern wisely before investing what could potentially be a lot of money for commentaries. Ask around from trusted men who have taught the Bible for a long period of time what they think. If you can borrow them or check them out of the library, try to use them first in your study prep and determine how useful they truly are.

And, perhaps some other folks will tell us how they have learned to evaluate commentaries in the comments.

Blackbird

blackbirdOne of the cool things about my job of over seeing the volunteer ministries at Grace to You is that a number them worked at Lockheed’s famous Skunk Works facility when it was in Burbank.

I’ve listened to their numerous stories telling me about  what it was like working on America’s top secret projects like the U-2, SR-71, and the F-117.  I have always had a fondness for military history, especially aviation history, so I was delighted when I discovered this fascinating background with a lot of the folks I work with on a weekly basis.

Additionally, Skunk Works once had a top secret testing site in my neighborhood here in Santa Clarita just a few miles from Grace to You. The area where the site was once located is now an industrial center with the primary showpiece being a Wal-Mart supercenter, with a Wendy’s and Chipolte  across the street on one corner, and a Home Depot on the other.

A good many of my volunteers were at Skunk Works during the development of the SR-71 Blackbird. As a kid, I always thought that was the “awesomest” of all jet planes. I was such a geek about it, that growing up, I had posters of the SR-71 on my wall rather than scantly clad women.

A favorite book of mine I always love to recommend is “Skunk Works” written by Ben Rich, one of the major directors of the facility during the era when all these planes were being developed and flown. He started under the original director, Kelly Johnson, and eventually took over once he retired. The book is a basic history of the facility and the historic planes they built and how they were used during the Cold War.

The entire book is fascinating to read, and knowing and talking with many of the folks who actually lived around the history that is recounted, it makes the book come to life even more.

In the chapters of Rich’s history retelling the development of the SR-71, he has various pilots who flew the Blackbird during its service share their remembrances flying the iconic jet – and there are plenty of good ones. One pilot tells of how he would wake up in the morning at home in New Mexico, have breakfast with the wife and kids, get to work at the Air Force base by 9ish AM, have a briefing on the mission he was to fly, be in his Blackbird taking off by 10ish AM, flying over China around noonish, then back home in New Mexico by 3ish in the afternoon, followed by a debrief and story swapping with the other guys, and then home by 5ish or so.

One of the more entertaining testimonies comes from Lt. Colonel William Burk Jr., who shares about a particular mission he flew over Lebanon back in 82.

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In the fall of ’82, I flew from Mildenhall on a mission over Lebanon in response to the Marine barracks bombing. President Reagan ordered photo coverage of all the terrorist basis in the region. The French refused to allow us overfly, so our mission profile was to refuel off the south coast of England, a Mach 3 cruise leg down the coast of Portugal and Spain, left turn through the Straits of Gibraltar, refuel in the Western Mediterranean, right turn into Lebanon and fly right down main street Beirut, exit along the southern Mediterranean with another refueling over Malta, supersonic back out the straits, and return to England.

Because Syria had a Soviet SA-5 missile system just west of Damascus that we would be penetrating (we were unsure of Syria’s intentions in this conflict), we programmed to fly above 80,000 feet and at Mach 3 plus to be on the safe side, knowing that this advanced missile had the range and speed to nail us.

As we entered Lebanon’s airspace my Recon Systems Officer in the rear cockpit informed me that our defensive systems display showed we were being tracked by that SA-5. About 15 seconds later we got a warning of active guidance signals from the SA-5 site. We couldn’t tell whether there was an actual launch or the missile was still on the rails, but they were actively tracking us. We didn’t waste any time wondering, but climbed and pushed that throttle, and said a couple of “Hail Kellys.”

We completed our pass over Beirut and turned toward Malta, when I got a warning low-oil-pressure light on my right engine.  Even though the engine was running fine I slowed down and lowered our altitude and made a direct line for England. We decided to cross France without clearance instead of going the roundabout way.

We made it almost across, when I looked out the left window and saw a French Mirage III sitting ten feet off my left wing. He came up on our frequency and asked us for our Diplomatic Clearance Number.  I had no idea what he was talking about, so I told him to stand by. I ask my backseater, who said, “Don’t worry about it. I just gave it to him.” What he had given him was “the bird” with his middle finger: I lit the afterburners and left that Mirage standing still. Two minutes later, we were crossing the Channel.

Shave Like A Man

This is a post from a couple of years ago. I was motivated by this recent post over at the Cripplegate on shaving to the glory of God. Jesse’s post is a great supplement to this one, so check it out.

I figured it being the Christmas season and folks may be looking for something to purchase for male loved ones (husband’s, brother-in-laws), I thought I would bring it back to the front page as a gift recommendation. With no extra charge.

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My brother gave me an unusual gift this past Christmas: A shaving kit; complete with pre-shave oil, lather, a badger hair shaving brush, after-shave balm, and a heavy stainless steel Merkur safety razor with blades.

I say it was an unusual gift because it is the kind of gift your great aunt you rarely see who lives in Dallas would give you for your high school graduation. In fact, now that I think about it, one of my aunts in Kansas City may have given me a similar shaving kit for a birthday or some other culturally designated gift giving period of the year.

When the raging hormones of puberty began surging through my body, on top of experiencing the occasional Peter Brady voice changing moments, my cherubic, baby-face began growing tufts of whiskers.

I know our principal/health teacher at the Salem R-80 middle school would like to think those “films” he showed to all us six grade boys during that “special” recess apart from the girls prepared us for embracing our mutating, 13-year old bodies, but regrettably, they did not. They gave us lots of theoretical information for sure, but we were left on our own when it came to the practical application, like shaving.

My dad did his best to teach me how to shave, but he used a Gillette safety razor. Safety razors frightened me. I thought if I tried to use one, I would peel the skin off my face like a potato. Thankfully, my parents gave me an electric razor for Christmas early on in my new shaving journey and I used it for a few years. But as my whiskers got thicker, the electric razor felt as though it wasn’t working like it should and shaving was kinda hurting.

By that time, I was a tad more confident with the thought of using the razor blade variety of shaver, yet, instead of a single bladed safety razor (which still scared me a bit) I went to the disposable, multi-bladed, pivotal cartridges and I pretty much stuck with that technique for the last 25 years with little variation in my routine.

I also have considered shaving to be one of those personal things with a man that you really don’t meddle with. It’s like a his wallet. You don’t just go out and buy one for another guy as a “gift.”

So when I opened this box my brother had sent me and there was a shaving kit from The Art of Shaving Store, I was perplexed as to what he was thinking. He had told me on the phone before Christmas he thought he would get me something out of the ordinary, so I was certainly thinking un-ordinary.

When we talked later after I got the gift, he said that his new way of shaving had changed and revolutionized his life so he wanted to share it with me. Like it was a religious conversion or something and he had become an evangelist.

I was reluctant to give it a try, but my brother sent along a set of videos that made shaving the old fashioned way with a safety razor extremely appealing.

The Shave Tutor

I watched the series of videos and was hooked to give it a try, and I have to confess that when one applies the techniques this fellow presents in his videos it has made shaving to be fun. Shaving has actually become a routine that I look forward to doing rather than just another personal grooming chore I have to do to look presentable.

There is time involved, certainly. Pre-shave oiling your face and whipping up lather in a cup adds an extra 2 minutes of time to the shaving ritual; however, using that soft, supple badger hair brush to paint your face in shaving cream can be euphoric. It’s not speed shaving in the shower by any means, but the work provides an overall more satisfying experience for an otherwise mundane daily habit. Plus, my shave is much more close and lasts longer than what those multi-bladed disposable razors gave me.

For all the guys who read this, check out the videos and consider investing in one of these shaving kits. Here’s a website to get started: Classic Shaving.

Maybe suggest to the wife or other family to get you one for Christmas this year or a birthday. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with how much you may like it. I know I was.

Bug-A-Salt

I so definitely want one of these.

Of course, it is all fun and games until some stupid kid misuses the gun and shoots an eye out.  Then the fretful societal do-gooders banish it to “The Island of Banned Nanny State Contraband,” along with lawn darts, dive sticks, candy cigarettes, and 32 oz soda cups.  All guarded by King Bloomberg.