Galatians for You by Timothy Keller
In this new series of commentaries published by the Good Book Company (U.K.), the design is to give readers a snapshot of biblical books with an eye towards solid commentary on application. In Galatians for You, Pastor Timothy Keller expounds the book of Galatians around the central theme of the gospel. He writes, “But in this short letter, Paul outlines the bombshell truth that the gospel is the A to Z of the Christian life. It is not only the way to enter the kingdom; it is the way to live as part of the kingdom. It is the way Christ transforms people, churches and communities” (9). Living out the gospel and the consequences in believing the gospel helps address the main contextual aspects of Galatians from the Jewish/Gentile arguments to racial division. Furthermore, what is apparent throughout the book is that the permanent nature of the gospel being central to all things runs right through the heart of every page, helping the reader to focus on the main thesis.
In Keller fashion, the commentary breathes through with a theology that is both edifying and Christ-centered. Commenting on Galatians 1:4a, Keller writes, “He did all we needed to do, but cannot do. If Jesus’ death really paid for our sins on our behalf, we can never fall back into condemnation” (16). The notion of substitutionary atonement gives the Christian real hope because there is no reason to be condemned anymore, the full burden and weight of sin and its destructive power has been vanquished. What I greatly enjoyed in each chapter, including this one, is Keller’s insistence in outlining the universality of the gospel and its implications while continually drawing us toward the particularity of the meaning of the gospel for Paul and us. How does Keller do this? Broadly speaking, he writes, “But the biblical gospel – Paul’s gospel – is clear that salvation, from first to last, is God’s doing” (17). With the reader in mind, he writes, “This is the humbling truth that lies at the heart of Christianity. We love to be our own saviors. Our hearts love to manufacture glory for themselves” (17). The work of God in salvation has global ramifications because it is the same God who saves sinners by the work of Christ regardless of their status, place of birth, or economic level. Yet, there is a dissonance, we all as individuals love to hold out for own glory, our own day in the sunshine where others sing our praises. In each chapter, Keller brings together the core points of his writing by placing
I thought the format of the book was a positive and negative aspect of the commentary. Positively, the commentary was not overburdened with technical minutiae to the point of wearing the reader out (Northern/Southern Galatian hypothesis). For all purposes, the commentary was eminently practical, able to be used in small group study due to its short chapters, key insights, and wrap-up questions at the end of each chapter. The large type gray sections in the book were a reminder of key statements that were indicative of the major themes of the commentary. Negatively, I thought the way the actual Scripture text was included was an eyesore and hard to follow. Instead of having bracketed sections of the Scripture at the beginning in a memorable type, phrases and bits of the pericope were scattered throughout the commentary as a running dialogue. But, I think the advantage here is that the reader isn’t forced to constantly turn back the page to see the Scripture, but has the passage or sections of it before them.
Overall, I would give this book to anyone wanting to dig into Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Gospel-centered, focusing on the major issues of the text with an eye towards applications, Keller has done a marvelous job in writing this commentary. If you want a little bit of the current debate on Galatians, Keller provides a three page section on the New Perspective and the meaning of “works of the law” in Galatians. I was greatly encouraged by the work and look for more in the same series like this one.
Thanks to The Good Book Company and Cross Focused Reviews for the copy of the book in exchange for review.