Let’s face it—it’s hard to preach Acts. It may be easy to throw together a sermon on a random text, like the one many of us have done on the marks of an authentic church from Acts 2:42-47, but where do you go from there?
Acts is a neglected and misused book. Non-charismatics may avoid it due to its prominent portrayal of the gifts of the Spirit. Charismatics may approach it as a step-by-step, how-to-do-it manual for the practice of spiritual gifts. Dispensationalists may see it as a transitional book leading from an outmoded Jewish church to the current body of Christ from many nations. Back in seminary 50 years ago our Acts class focused on the book mainly as historical background for studying Paul’s letters.
It’s hard to preach Acts well. All of the above approaches to Acts have some value, but none of them take Acts as Luke intended it, as a sequel to Luke’s Gospel (Acts 1:1), a record of what Jesus continues to do and teach through his Spirit-empowered body. Acts is not really the acts of the apostles—only two of them are featured. It’s not even the acts of the Holy Spirit, although that’s getting closer. The book portrays the acts of the exalted Messiah Jesus through his Spirit-empowered church. The exploits and teachings of the earliest church, from Jerusalem all the way to Rome, are in fact the activities of the ascended, enthroned Jesus. Acts is messianic theology in motion. Jesus’ ongoing work through the Spirit in the church today is Acts 29, a sort of sequel to Luke’s two volumes. I’ve written about this previously.
A new book leads us away from under-use and outright misuse of Acts. John Harvey recently collaborated with David Gentino in authoring the Acts volume in the Kerux Commentary Series published by Kregel Press in Grand Rapids. Harvey is Professor of New Testament and Director of the PhD Program at Columbia International University. Gentino is lead pastor of Columbia Presbyterian Church PCA in South Carolina. He has served as a church planter and a teacher of church planters in both the United States and South Asia.
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I recently spoke with John Harvey about how he and David Gentino wrote this book, and about their hopes for its impact on the church. Go here for a video of that conversation
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Why do we need the Kerux Series?
Krister Stendahl once described biblical communicators ideally as bilingual translators, people equally adept with the ancient language and culture of the Bible as well as the current language and culture of their audience. If Stendahl is right, we need the Kerux series. We already have exegetical-critical commentaries which take us back into the ancient world of the Bible and devotional-homiletical commentaries which attempt to warm our hearts. The Kerux commentaries help pastors preach the Bible with awareness of both its past origins and itspresent relevance.
Kerux (κῆρυξ) is a Greek word that describes a person who in ancient time heralded the message of a high official. Paul described himself as a κῆρυξ of Christ and the gospel (1 Tim 2:7 and 2 Tim 1:11). Peter used κῆρυξ to describe Noah in the days before the great flood (2 Pet 2:5). The Kerux series aims to help today’s heralds of the gospel by combining exegetical insights from biblical scholars with homiletical suggestions from seasoned preachers. When pastorally-minded professors collaborate with well-studied pastors, preachers are in for a treat, a commentary that links the ancient biblical text with the 21st century world. The author teams of the Kerux series are uniquely equipped to aid pastors in preaching accurately and relevantly.
Each volume of the series contains
- a detailed introduction and outline of the biblical book
- Segmentation of the biblical book into preaching sections which are discussed exegetically, theologically, and homiletically
- Pointers that connect the original audience with the contemporary audience
- Insights from the Hebrew and Greek texts
- Thorough exposition of each preaching section
- Sidebars, charts, and photographs
- The “big idea” of each preaching section
- Suggestions for creative application
- Questions for study groups
The Approach of this Commentary
The commentary begins with a historical-theological introduction to Acts, followed by one-page overviews of each of the 46 suggested preaching sections. When one consults the commentary proper, these overviews are repeated as sidebars for each suggested preaching section. Let’s look at one of those sections, Acts 8:4-25.
The treatment of Acts 8:4-25 begins with helpful insights into the context of Philip’s ministry in Samaria and Judea. The exposition shows how the text is about the gospel coming to Samaria (8:4-13) and the Spirit coming to the Samaritans (8:14-25). Verse-by-verse notes follow, along with a chart that contrasts Philip and Simon and a sidebar on the history of Samaria and the Samaritans. A discussion on whether the Samaritans’ experience of the Spirit is normative for today is accompanied by a chart that summarizes the different ways the Spirit comes in Acts 2, 8, 9, 10, and 19. Discussion of the theological focus of the section gives way to preaching and teaching strategies, along with ideas for creative presentation of the message.
Here we learn how the gospel overcomes bigotry. If the entrenched mutual hatred of the Jews and the Samaritans was conquered by the gospel, the church must preach the same gospel as the solution to racial prejudices today. All of this leads to three points that unpack the big idea—the gospel is both inclusive and exclusive:
- The gospel is inclusive for all who believe (8:4-8)
- The gospel is exclusive of competing beliefs (8:9-13)
- The gospel cannot be mixed with anything else (8:14-24)
What more shall I say?
The Kerux series addresses a common problem with commentaries. Some provide a deep dive into exegetical details, but when you come up for air there is no wisdom for preaching and ministry. Others are full of devotional fluff that lacks solid mooring in the biblical text. Neither approach is particularly helpful for faithful pastors who need help in preparing sermons that are both true to the Bible and relevant for their audience. The Kerux Series teams a trained exegete with an experienced preacher, and it gives both of them room to shine in their respective disciplines. I wish we had commentaries like this when I was a pastor.
This book will help you preach Acts well.
A very helpful review by Prof Phil Long is here on his Reading Acts Site.
View the book on Amazon here.
View the book on Christian Book Distributors here. Currently cheaper than Amazon!
View the book at the Kregel website here.