Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees | Book Review


Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees is the third installment in Daniel Taylor’s series of mysteries featuring Jon Mote, erstwhile Ph.D. student and special-needs adult caregiver, now book editor for Luxor House, a subsidiary of Continental Media, itself a small part of World Wide Holdings International, which in is run by an even larger corporation known to insiders as Imperial Interests.

The book begins and ends at a retreat center in northern Minnesota as fall is changing to winter. The central plotline takes place on a single day and is written in the voice of Jon Mote. Readers get Mote’s perspective on events as they unfold, but the unfolding involves a lot of flashing back to earlier events.

Those gathered at the retreat center are part of a Bible translation committee charged with producing the New World Standard Bible, the primary need for which seems to be making its publisher lots of money. In order to expedite the translation process, the publisher buys the 70s-era paraphrase of the Bible produced by Dr. Jerry DeAngelo (“Dr. Jerry”), a retired televangelist who’s glad to be back in the game. His dutiful wife, Cate, sits in on all meetings, saying little but knitting a lot.

Members of the committee are a diverse group, including Dr. Bart Sprung (“the most publicly known progressive figure”); Dr. Lilith Weekly (“an established feminist scholar”); Dr. Martin Shabazz Douglas (“a rising young black scholar”); Dr. Adam Corinth (“an expert on the historical books of the Old Testament”); and Dr. Peter Stone (a fundamentalist theologian “teaching at a Baptist university in Virginia”). If disagreement about a choice of translation arises, committee members vote, and ties are broken by Robert Green, an agnostic Jew from New York who represents the publisher’s financial interests and enforces its deadlines.

If you know anything about Bible translation committees, you know that this committee would never exist in real life. It’s too ideologically and ecclesially diverse. And with the exception of Adam Corinth, none of the members is a biblical scholar per se.

That niggling detail should be overlooked, however, because Daniel Taylor isn’t satirizing Bible translation as much as using Bible translation to satirize the sorry state of Christianity in America, of the academic study of religion, and of religious publishing. The satire works well, hilariously so at points. Bart Sprung seems like a mashup of Bart Ehrman and John Shelby Spong. Two other characters, Robby Clapper and Orlanda, are stand-ins for Rob Bell and Oprah. Even the Peter Stone’s redundant name—Peter derives from the Greek word for rock—is a witty caricature of fundamentalist immovability.

Moreover, if you like series novels, as I do, Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees continues the story of Jon Mote as he heals from the personal traumas related in Death Comes for the Deconstructionist and Do We Not Bleed?, which I reviewed here and here. He is reconciling with his ex-wife Zillah and continues to care for his older sister Judy, who has Down Syndrome. All of that makes for a rich, textured literary universe that’s enjoyable to explore.

As a mystery, however, Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees was only so-so, in my opinion. Several characters die in the novel, starting with Adam Corinth, and there are hints at a suspect, but the clue that solves the mystery arrives too abruptly when no one is looking for it. It is literally just found. As a mystery novel reader, that aspect of the novel was something of a letdown.

I can’t help but wonder, though, whether this observation is beside the point. The title of the book is Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees, which alludes to Jesus’ denunciation of the same in Matthew 23 and Luke 11. Taylor doesn’t cite any verses from those chapters in the book’s epigraph, however, instead quoting Deuteronomy 4:2 and Mark 7:13. Regardless, given the allusion and the quotation, it seems clear to me that Taylor has authorities in both academe and the church in mind throughout this book. They are the ones “making the word of God of none effect through you tradition” (Mark 7:13 KJV).

In other words, this book ultimately isn’t a mystery about violent murder but about misusing the Bible. The way some people use the Bible kills. If so, then I’d hazard the guess that Dr. Martin Shabazz Douglas is the real hero of the story.

If that doesn’t make sense to you now, read the book, and it will.

Book Reviewed
Daniel Taylor, Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees: A Jon Mote Mystery (Eugene, OR: Slant, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

A Little Book for New Preachers | Book Review


Matthew D. Kim is associate professor of preaching and ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, as well as director of its Haddon W. Robinson Center for Preaching. He describes A Little Book for New Preachers as “a primer or introduction to preaching focusing on the characteristics of what makes for effective sermons and faithful preachers” (p. 14). Kim divides his material into three parts:

  1. Why Study Preaching?
  2. Characteristics of Faithful Preaching
  3. Characteristics of Faithful Preachers

In a cultural era in which preaching is often denigrated, Kim makes a case for both the practice and formal study of preaching in Part One. After outlining several reasons for preaching, Kim concludes: “Preaching is essential to the life of God’s people because understanding and applying the Word of God is essential” (p. 52). The goal of preaching, in other words, is “to make disciples” (p. 44, cf. Matthew 28:19–20). Preaching is not the only way to do this, of course, but the Church has long found it to be an important, if not the most important way to do it.

Part Two turns to three characteristics of “faithful preaching: interpretation, cultural exegesis, and application. The material on interpretation and application is good. I especially appreciated the chapter on cultural exegesis, however. “Every congregation consists of people from different personal experiences, cultures, and backgrounds,” Kim writes, “even if outwardly they seem homogeneous” (p. 72). And that applies doubly outside a church’s four walls. The goal of cultural exegesis is “not to compete with the culture but rather to comprehend it for the sake of effective proclamation of God’s Word” (p. 73). I encourage pastors to pay attention to this chapter especially, and to consider reading Kim’s longer book, Preaching with Cultural Intelligence (Baker Academic). Those of us who preach need to know the cultural blind spots we all too often have when reading and preaching the Bible.

Finally, Part Three identifies three qualities preachers need to have to be effective: being pastoral and loving, being a person of character and integrity, and being prayerful and Spirit-led. “Preaching ability and charisma are inadequate to sustain a long-term, fruit-yielding ministry,” Kim writes (p. 106). Character is needed. In its absence, preachers are tempted to “fall into various destructive patterns of sin, which abruptly curtail their ministries and hurt their families and congregations” (p. 107). At the end of the day, the quality of the preacher matters as much as the quality of his or her sermons. Your whole speaks, not just your words.

Although Kim wrote his Little Book for “new preachers,” old preachers—which includes me—can read the book profitably as a refresher on homiletical basics.

Book Reviewed
Matthew D. Kim, A Little Book for New Preachers: Why and How to Study Homiletics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

How to Improve Your Preaching in 2020 | Influence Podcast


Preaching and teaching God’s Word is an essential skill in pastoral ministry, whether you’re a senior pastor, youth pastor, children’s pastor, or the like. As with any skill, your preaching can improve with intentional practice. In Episode 205 of the Influence Podcast, I talk with Matthew Kim about how to improve your preaching in 2020.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

My guest is associate professor of preaching and ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, as well as director of its Haddon W. Robinson Center for Preaching. He is author of A Little Book for New Preachers (IVP Academic) and Preaching with Cultural Intelligence (Baker Academic), among other books.

This episode of the Influence Podcast is brought to you by My Healthy Church, distributors of Balanced Budget, Balanced Life:

People don’t plan on having money troubles, which is exactly the problem: they don’t plan! Rollie Dimos shows you how to make a biblically sound financial plan and stick to it. Get back the time and resources you need to stop stressing out about money, and start enjoying the balance of a truly abundant life.

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How to Read the Former Prophets for Preaching | Influence Podcast


“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” writes the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16.

While all Christians agree that Scripture is useful, we don’t often understand how to use it. Today, I’m starting a series of occasional podcasts designed to help pastors improve how they read Scripture so that they can preach Scripture better. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

My guest today is Rick Wadholm Jr., associate professor of biblical and theological studies at Trinity Bible College and Graduate School in Ellendale, North Dakota. Rick received his PhD from Bangor University in Wales, and is author of the recently published book, A Theology of the Spirit in the Former Prophets. We’ll be talking about reading the Former Prophets for preaching.

P.S. This is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com.

Setting Your Church’s Agenda with Prayer | Influence Podcast


“At Oaks Church we don’t open the agenda with prayer,” writes Scott Wilson, “we set the agenda with prayer.” He goes on: “We don’t want to just acknowledge God when we meet, we want to hear Him speak and lead us.”

In Episode 204 of the Influence Podcast—the first episode of 2020—I’m talking with Scott Wilson about how prayer can set the agenda for your church. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Scott Wilson is pastor of Oaks Church in Red Oak, Texas, and author of several books. His most recent is P3: Praying…in the Spirit, with Understanding, and in Agreement, which can be downloaded free at P3Book.org.

This episode of the Influence Podcast is brought to you by My Healthy Church, distributors of MEGA Sports Camp, a unique VBS that makes it easy to reach new families.

Children’s ministry leaders often feel frustrated and disappointed that their summer outreach programs don’t bring in new kids. MEGA Sports Camp gives leaders a fun, unique summer outreach program so that they can welcome new families, engage new volunteers, and impact the community.

To find out more, visit MegaSportsCamp.com.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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