The book of Romans is arguably the most important letter ever written. It is Paul’s magnum opus; a glorious exposition of the gospel, demonstrating how the great themes of Scripture all find their fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
But for many readers – and certainly for many preachers – it can be a daunting book to dive into. It touches on many complex and sometimes controversial topics: Human sexuality, God’s sovereignty, or His plans for Israel, to name but a few.
For those keen to explore this letter, but in need of some guidance, Andrew Ollerton’s new book Romans: A Letter that Makes Sense of Life is a fantastic resource.
The front cover boasts an impressive endorsement from Sir David Suchet, who himself came to faith reading Romans. He writes,
‘On all my travels, if I had the Gospels, Paul’s letter to the Romans and Andrew Ollerton’s book I would need nothing else.’
Wow. I can think of another 61 books of Scripture that deserve a look in! But beneath the Herculean hyperbole, he has a point – Ollerton’s book is indeed a great companion to Paul’s letter.
It’s a challenge when writing a book like this to strike the correct balance between honouring the flow of the original letter and dividing the content into clear and distinct themes that make sense for the modern reader. I think Andrew has achieved this really well. This isn’t a commentary, so it won’t answer every exegetical question you have, and there will be some sections where you want more detail. But Andrew does a great job of keeping Paul’s main themes at the foreground, and not getting too quickly side-tracked by other issues.
He also manages to strike a great balance in shifting between the original context and our modern one, providing enough background information about Roman society to bring it vividly to life, but not so much as to overwhelm or distract. And through an array of personal illustrations and cultural references, he brings it right up to the present, giving us tools to apply Paul’s wisdom for today.
One of the most helpful things about this book is the mountain climbing metaphor, which frames the entire journey. We start in a low place – the valley of sin – before making the challenging ascent, wrestling with the significance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Eventually, we come to the peak – Romans 8 – where we pause to catch our breath and enjoy the view, before descending once more to put into practice what we have learned.
This climb is broken into ten stages, including the place of peace, the ridge of freedom, the summit of hope, and the cloud of mystery. Throughout the book, the metaphor manages to avoid feeling contrived, and makes the shape and structure of the letter memorable. I’ve already found it helpful to use when teaching recently on Romans.
Perhaps my favourite thing though is how uplifting a book this is. Despite the complexity of Romans, Andrew manages to make it feel accessible and applicable. Paul begins his letter by saying,
‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.’(Romans 1.16)
That same kind of confidence runs through this book, leading at various points to wonder and worship.
So, whether you’re new to Romans and in need of a first-time guide, or familiar with this letter but looking for a refresher, I’d recommend you check out Andrew’s book. And while you’re at it, you may want to sign up for information about the forthcoming Romans Course, which will be perfect for small groups, and will also provide resources to help churches preach through Paul’s letter.
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Photo by Nijwam Swargiary on Unsplash
Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash
Note: I work with Andrew Ollerton, and received a copy of this book from the publisher. But I don’t believe that influenced my appreciation of it, and am sure I would have been just as positive had I paid for it!