A lot has been written about the book of Romans. Some people interpret it in fragments and fail to see the holistic theme of the book. For example, some people have taken chapters 9 through 11 as written only for Israel, while the rest of the book is meant for non-Israel. Yet neither approach is correct. Rather, as Tim Keller has written Romans 8-16 For You, Romans is about the Gospel. He writes,
“The first seven chapters explain the wonderful truths of the gospel: of justification by faith, of union with Christ, of salvation through Christ alone and not through our works…Then comes the second half of the book. In chapters 8 to 16, Paul is going to continue to answer a question he began to ask in chapters 5 to 7: How does faith in the gospel of Christ actually lead to change in real life?”
Basically, Romans has a unified theme and a simple message, which is, the Gospel for salvation and transformation. From this simple message Paul relates it to very complex issues to show the truth. He practically relates the Gospel for all aspects of life. Each of these issues – adversity, predestination, Israel’s salvation, loving enemies, relationship to government, loving one’s neighbor, stumbling blocks, unity, and women’s roles in the church – Keller directly interprets. Below are some of the issues in more detail.
Love and Gratitude Flow from the Gospel
Keller spends time exegeting chapter eight. He wants to connect to the first seven chapters of Romans to “remember what Christ has done and will do for us…to feel the obligations of love and gratitude to serve and know him.” By doing so Keller is able to explain the doctrines of divine election much easier. This is because living in gratitude for what God has finished about salvation allows Christians to directly see the importance of biblical predestination. A connection that will be explained further in the next section of this review.
Divine Election and Predestination’s Connection to the Gospel
Initially many Christians may dismiss Romans 8-16 For You based on their personal view of free will and the doctrine of predestination. However, be encouraged to read this book anyway. The challenges of divine election are contained in chapters 9 through 11 and do not go away. Each Christian must come to a biblical conclusion regarding predestination and divine election. Avoiding the topic does not make it go away. The advantage to Keller’s viewpoint is that he approaches it from a comforting standpoint than just theoogical debate.
Specifically, he wants readers to know that divine election builds confidence in the believer. By knowing that God is the author of salvation apart from humanity a Christian never needs to worry about their eternal destination. No one can undo what He has secured in Christ for those who receive Jesus. In other words, the doctrine of election assures Christians that they can never lose their eternal security. Since salvation is dependent on God’s mercy and grace than one’s feeble abilities one can have confidence to live a life of faithful gratitude. Not one of fear, anxiety, and rejection. That’s an encouraging thought that allows Christians to live their faith effectively.
Daily Applying the Gospel
Chapter 12 of Romans begins the last section of this epistle by Paul, which continues the message of gospel salvation and transformation. Specifically, Keller spends time explaining how Paul suggests that Christians apply the grace of Christ in a variety of areas. Here is where loving enemies, relationship to government, loving one’s neighbor, stumbling blocks, unity, and women’s roles in the church are explained. Due to brevity some of these topics will be interacted with at a later time. For now know that Keller does a profound job of avoiding the common legalistic interpretations to support the bigger picture, which is how Christians can live out the Gospel in their life.
No book is perfect and Romans 8-16 For You is no different. For example, Keller over-relies on Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Stott to support his interpretations. Now both of these authors are reputable sources, but Keller could have used other books to diversify his scholarship. A resource that could have been used is J.I. Packer’s book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Like Lloyd-Jones, Packer also talks about the “antimony” regarding divine election and free will. So Keller could have used Packer to increase his number of scholarly references than relying on the same authors. Despite this minor compliant it does not change the truth of Keller’s interpretations. However, a more diverse approach would have silenced some critics concerned with his interpretation of the book of Romans.
Also, some will disagree with Keller’s suggestions on a Christian’s role towards the nation’s government. Yet, those concerns may be a reflection of the reader’s misinterpretations of scripture, political applications, and America’s role in history. More detail will be given on this sensitive topic in a later post. For now it’s encouraged that all Christians read Romans 13, Keller’s words on the chapter found in this book, and carefully consider if they may have made an idol about America’s government or political process in any way.
As with any entry in this commentary series published by The Good Book Company, each book is written as a quasi-devotional to help all Christians understand different books of the Bible better. Romans 8-16 For You does not fail to continue in this tradition. This is despite the difficult passages of scripture Keller had to interpret. In fact, this book excels by taking the difficult topics of predestination, Israel, and others to point to the real issue Paul was concerned with. The issue of “how the gospel not only saves us (Chapters 1-5), but also how it then changes us (chapters 6-8; 12-15)” as Keller writes.
So if you are looking for a book that is concerned with the Gospel implications of Romans then Romans 8-16 For You and it’s predecessor Romans 1-7 For You is a highly recommended. That is the primary focus of these two books. It will serve as a great encouragement for Christians at any maturity level. Also, when you finish you may then want to go more in-depth, not to be more theologically correct on these tense issues, but to grow in your love of the grace of God even more.
(I received this book through the Cross Focused Review program in exchange for an honest review of the book.)