Book Review: A Theology of James by Christopher W. Morgan
Christopher W. Morgan, A Theology of James: Wisdom for God's People (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2010). 256pp. Paper. $17.99.
“A Theology of James” by Christopher W. Morgan is a recent addition to the Explorations in Biblical Theology series, which seeks to trace the various theological doctrines and themes of a given New Testament book through the Bible. In keeping with this, “A Theology of James” is not so much a commentary on the book (although there are some passages given more detailed attention), as it is a “big picture” look at the book as a whole. Morgan spends the early chapters dealing with broader topics such as the context of the book, the influences on James’s thought, and the overarching concern of James. These early chapters include his discussion of the authorship and the occasion for the letter, and a brief overview of the role of the O.T. Law, Prophets, and Wisdom literature in James. Morgan identifies the major theme of James to be “wisdom for consistency in the community.” In the middle and later chapters, Morgan then takes each major theme found in James, summarizes James’s teaching on the theme, and often shows how this teaching flows out of the Old Testament and is consistent with other New Testament authors. Themes that receive treatment include Wisdom, Consistency, Suffering, the Poor, Words, and God’s Word and Law. He also has chapters devoted exclusively to analyzing with the relationship of James and Paul and the theology of James. The book also includes questions to aid study and reflection for each chapter and a list of books and articles that can be referenced for further study of James.
“A Theology of James” does an excellent job of being neither superficial in its treatment of James nor highly technical in its language. On the one hand, Morgan offers enough detail and analysis of key themes and certain passages to make the book worth reading (or at least referencing) for pastors and teachers. His topical treatment of the major themes provides a convenient resource that concisely lays out James’s teaching on a given topic. He also acknowledges and interacts with different interpretations of certain key texts, and briefly but effectively defends his position. On the other hand, Morgan avoids excessive references to Hebrew and Greek as well as confusing theological jargon, making the book very accessible to lay readers who have a desire to study the book of James. He also includes application throughout the book and concludes with a chapter devoted entirely to discussing the relevance of James to 21st century Christians.
I recommend “A theology of James” as a good introductory book for lay readers who are interested in studying James, but lack the ability or the desire to digest a larger, more technical, commentary. Pastors and teachers who have access to good commentaries on James will probably not need to read this book in its entirety, as much of the material covered in this book is included in a commentary introduction. However, as mentioned above, it is still useful as a good reference for teaching through James as it provides a concise picture of the different major themes.