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Excellence in Proper Perspective

After finishing Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholary Virtue by Andreas Kostenberger, I am still awestruck by the way Dr. Kostenberger brought to bear the twin ideas of excellence being found in God and basing our scholarly virtues on Him. This seems sort of like an obvious statement, but I have never read a book that deals so biblically and faithfully with scholarly virtue and God. Most times what you get from a book about scholarly virtues is concepts related to philosophy and Greek thinking, but Kostenberger rightfully situates scholarly virtues in the character of God. How does he do this? Kostenberger writes, "Undergirded by the grace of God, we will make progress in our pursuit of excellence as we add to our faith the various virtues discussed throughout this book" (28). The virtues themselves that the author is talking about fall into line with the various headings: vocational, moral, foundations and relational excellence.

One of the best things about this book was the way that it was formatted in each chapter. Each chapter has a section regarded to taking that virtue through the Bible (diligence in the NT, components of biblical spirituality). Next, Kostenberger gives an analysis of various texts involved and finishes with an application of the various virtues to the Christian life. One of my favorite sections was on spirituality. Kostenberger writes, "Christian spirituality, properly understood, is a spirituality of engagement, not withdrawal, even though there will times when Christians will retreat temporarily" (73-74). Kostenberger goes onto place a proper spirituality in line with loving engagement in community and fellowship. What was so dead on here was the focus that spirituality is not a pull back from the people and culture that we we live in, but a proper engagement of them. Too many times, spirituality is seen as a retreat from the world into an extreme asecticism or mysticism. Kostenberger goes onto apply biblical principles of spirituality of scholarship by saying, "In our scholarly work, we must never substitute pious posturing for actual research and engagement with the evidence" (79). A mere appearance of pious behavior should not take away from actual study and research, lest our witness be demolished and our scholarship called into contact.

The chapter on humility was far and away a knockout chapter in my book. Kostenberger writes seemingly applying it scholarship and christians by saying, "How often do you consider the possibility that you might be wrong?" (203). A shot to the heart, here Kostenberger seeks to ask his readers to not overstate their case in scholarship or be too vain to not actually believe they could be wrong. Taking some cues from C.J. Mahaney, Kostenberger draws out the implications of seeing humility in terms of the wonder of the cross of Christ and also by seeing God's holiness in relationship to our sin. Humility is not easily discusses in any book, but I think Kostenberger draws out some key components of a bibical humility that will aid both scholar and believer.

I thought this book was a great work in wedding a biblical view of God (his attributes and characteristics) to an a fully orbed understanding of virtue in the scholarly arena. You will find tidbits of Kostenberger's own personal scholarly journey (from taking a minority view of the authorship of John's letters) to experiences with students. This book should be read by anyone interested in scholarship but also anyone concerned about virtue and the Christian life. I heartily endorse this book as a wake up call for the church to stand strong in its faith, and to take the role of virtues seriously in a pragmatic society.

Much thanks to Crossway Books for the review copy of this book.


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