As evangelicals, our reading and studying of the Bible is often done in disjointed sections. We devote significant time to understanding specific portions, but we can sometimes neglect the big picture. In his newest work, Handbook on Acts and Paul’s Letters, Thomas R. Schreiner helps readers take a step back and understand the key points in the book of Acts and the thirteen letters written by the Apostle Paul.
How would you expect this book to be used profitably by pastors and students of the Bible?
TS: This is an introductory book that an interested high school student, college student, or lay person could read. Most introductions to the New Testament focus on authorship, date, setting, false teachers, those sorts of questions. This book focuses on other questions.
“The gospel reminds us that God’s grace is free in Jesus Christ.”
It provides a very short introduction to each book, and then it concentrates on the content of Acts and the Pauline Letters. I basically march through each of the books, writing out the main points of exegesis for each of the books. I also focus on the use of the Old Testament by New Testament writers. It was a very fun book to write, because it did not require me to search out what is happening in scholarship and other books.
Is it refreshing to talk about these portions of the Bible on a more straightforward level and not have to dive into scholarly debates?
TS: Absolutely, it is refreshing. I am reminded of the general scope of these books — the main themes, the central points. We can sometimes miss the whole, as we focus on the parts in five, ten, or fifteen verse sermons. Writing about these portions of the New Testament for this handbook has helped me think of them as whole writings, not just discrete paragraphs or sections.
What are some of the challenges about writing a book like this?
TS: I suppose the biggest challenge is you do need to know what is in every book. There are fourteen distinct writings covered in this handbook. So, if I have spent a lot of time in Romans but not in the Pastorals, I have to get up to speed in the books I have not spent as much time in. When I was preparing to write the book, I spent more time on Philemon than I had previously.
What are some themes from Paul that you think are particularly helpful for the modern church?
TS: The gospel is always applicable. I think all of us tend to want to find our security and significance in what we do, and the gospel reminds us that God’s grace is free in Jesus Christ. It is the reminder that our righteousness does not come from ourselves. As evangelicals, we know that in our heads, but it is very easy for us to slip back in the way we lived prior to being saved, finding our meaning and significance in things other than Christ.
The gospel should never grow old to us. We need to relearn the gospel every day, as Luther said. I forget the gospel constantly, yet Paul reminds us of the gospel so powerfully, and he also reminds us of the power of the Spirit. We come to Christ for our righteousness, and it is the Spirit of Christ who empowers us and strengthens us to do what is pleasing to God, to live as one made alive by the power of the gospel.