The latest book by Dr. Christopher Cone is a presentation that stems from an essential drive that ought to be possessed by all believers — that of allowing the Scriptures to have unfettered, unhindered access to their lives for the purpose of spiritual change / growth. Citing Romans 12:1-2, Dr. Cone demonstrates in the opening paragraph of the book that a process of transformation is to occur for all Christians as the “expected response” to the great doctrinal truths of Romans 1-11, rightly labeled as “God’s mercies.” He then conveys the logic flow which dictates that for the Scriptures to transform a life, they must be communicated by means of properly equipped voices determined to uphold the faithful transmission of God’s Word to others; and that to be done excluding all purely human influences and distractions. It is then that biblical communicators merit being “faithful stewards” and “diligent workers” (p. 5).
The presentation is divided into three sections. Section I (pp. 1-46) is entitled “An Integrative Approach for Transformation and Replication.” This is Cone’s approach to safeguard the transformative process, described by the following outline:
The warrant for the literal-grammatical-historical (LGH) hermeneutic in exegesis
The process or steps to ensure adherence to LGH hermeneutic in exegesis
The discipline to sustain the LGH hermeneutic in exegesis forward through exposition
Throughout his ministry in both academic and pastoral capacities, Dr. Cone has championed the LGH hermeneutic to exegesis. This book well explains a meticulous and disciplined exegetical process which results in a believer rightly dividing the Word (pp. 16-22; plus the entirety of Section II). This is followed with an urgent appeal for teachers of the Word to remain consistent with LGH hermeneutics when presenting the Scriptures to others. “The mechanics of Biblical teaching is not a matter of preference” (p. 24). In a Christendom where excessive liberties of human subjectivity are taken in sermon / message content that sounds forth from podiums, airwaves, or written media, Cone’s renewed appeal to teach the Scriptures consistently as the objective standard of truth is justifiable.
The remaining pages of Section I consist of short chapters articulating Cone’s passion to see believers sufficiently equipped so that they become proficient in handling the Word independently of others. This passion is a worthy call to the Church against spiritual co-dependence, where the spiritual life of an individual is wrapped up in another human being instead of the Person of Jesus Christ. This reviewer heartily agrees with that passion; yet there are occasional statements of passion made at times which, if isolated out of context, appear to be overreaching. In a discussion about disciple-making, Cone argues that followers were not to be made of Paul or Timothy, but of what these men taught (p. 9). I do not believe that the author would argue against incarnational spiritual leadership; however, the observation itself seems to overstate this matter to deny God’s choice of human instrumentation to impact others’ lives. A hard interpretation of Cone’s point could logically imply that anyone regardless of spiritual qualification or condition could affect the same impact as long as the Word is accurately conveyed. Yet the author clearly states on pp. 49-50 that the first point of impact in the preparation for the delivery of God’s Word is within the teacher himself.
The second portion of this book is given to “An Overview of the Exegetical Process.” This section is a very helpful manual which expands the second point of the above outline with detailed explanations, tips and guides for exercise, along with very interesting and helpful samples, diagrams, case studies, and models. To students of Cone, this grid will be familiar; yet in this volume, the expansion with accompanying illustrations is valuable. This exegetical process is one to be adopted by every student of the Bible, and it is a very teachable approach to be used in training other believers for their personal study. Each of the steps is afforded its own chapter with accompanying samples. Chapter 11, for example, explains the third step of “Identifying Structural Keys.” After reading through a Bible book multiple, looking for keys within the text will help a student discover a logical outline inherent in the book itself. The samples provided are those from seven different books: Genesis, Habakkuk, Lamentations, John, Acts, James, and Revelation. As in Section I, a passionate overreaching statement or two will keep the reader on his toes in this section. In Chapter 17, while rightly conveying that in times of teaching, delivery of the Word is to remain the only priority, the author says, “[P]lease, please…stop writing sermons, and let the Bible speak for itself. A sermon can’t equip anyone. God’s word can and does. Which would you rather provide?” (p. 116). In the overall context, the concern for so-called “biblical” sermons being so filled with human rhetoric, entertaining stories, poetry, and other material to the extent it obfuscates Scripture rather than supports it is a point not to be taken lightly. Yet the statement itself can only be fulfilled if a teacher strictly reads the text of Scripture to others. The author does not intend for this to be practiced; hence, the overstatement is to be held in context to the whole.
The final section discusses the “Overview of the Expositional Process.” These remaining chapters outline seven different contexts for informal and formal teaching settings, along with the accompanying case studies to illustrate each one. It is laudable to see the comprehensive grasp of a teacher being ready “in season and out of season” to speak forth the truth of God’s Word. In Chapter 25 which discusses an informal setting of discipleship (as in a one-on-one context or a small group or class), a thirty-six week outline is provided that is thorough and very adaptable. This reviewer, shortly after reading this chapter, was afforded a discipleship opportunity; and the start of this outline has proved to be very helpful. In Chapter 27 is found a proposed thirty-minute schedule for one’s personal entry level guide to exegetical study. The author admittedly is not reducing this process to that timeframe, but is simply illustrating the proportionate attention to the steps. For a person beginning to engage or develop this study habit, following this grid would be valuable. The remaining chapters are short discussions about the roles played by style, dynamics, and technology in the communicative process.
This book is a fine edition to place on the believer’s desk. For the beginning student of the Word, it is a quick reference guide to aide in the formation of solid study habits. For the veteran student of the Word, it is a valuable tool to pass on to and walk together with the beginner, while also reminding himself of these activities incumbent to his being a “faithful steward” and “diligent worker.”
Review by Henry Vosburgh, director of Midwest Church Extension