Westminster Seminary California
Book Review: Genesis by R. R. Reno
Book Review: Genesis by R. R. Reno

R. R. Reno, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2010), 304pp. Hardback. $32.99.

In introducing his theological commentary on Genesis (part of the Brazos series) R.R. Reno warns the reader that the format will be a bit unusual and he does not disappoint. Instead of doing verse-by-verse exegesis, Reno divides the book into five sections, each with its own theological emphasis. Within each section, he then picks out verses of theological import, historical controversy, etc. and launches into extended theological reflections.

This decidedly systematic approach proves to be both a blessing and a curse. For pastors who are caught in a rut and begin to view their typical resources for preaching as tedious, this commentary will prove to be a refreshing change of pace. For those looking to do in-depth analysis of a given passage, on the other hand, this commentary will not prove particularly useful.

One benefit to Reno’s approach is found in his interaction with a diverse array of theologians. He draws upon sources and commentators that span the course of Western history—from Augustine and Origin to medieval Jewish scholars to modern biblical critics. This vast historical perspective enables the reader to escape the tunnel-vision sometimes attendant with theological debates particular to any era.

Reno also doesn’t miss the forest for the trees. While his lack of concrete exegesis can sometimes prove frustrating (perhaps a few trees would be nice here and there), he is able to key onto the importance of eschatology and an appreciation of redemptive history often lost on the more technically minded. Thus, while occasionally caught adrift amidst abstractions, his commentary won’t prove as conducive to moralistic interpretations.

On occasion, Reno’s “metaphysical ambition” (25) creates confusion and questionable interpretations. For example, how exactly were human beings, created good yet left to the freedom of their own will, able to rebel against God? He argues that “human beings do not originate the choice of evil, but instead respond to the devil’s prior sinful choice” (22, cf. 77-85). He then speaks of “the consequences of the human alliance with Satan’s choice” and the “ongoing, continuing fall of humanity” (ibid, italics mine). This language can tend to weaken the potency and responsibility of Adam’s choice and the guilt of his first transgression, with which we’re all charged.

Reno’s gift for rhetoric (“God’s words create reality, unrolling the scroll of time.”) sometimes blurs into an unhelpful ambiguity. This appears in the ever-important discussion of Abraham’s belief, which was reckoned to him as righteousness (cf. 155-162). Reno’s language of “covenantal membership” is not carefully nuanced, considering its close association with the New Perspective on Paul.

In addition, his helpful emphasis on eschatology can become a liability in such discussions as he skirts questions of soteriology and ecclesiology. Ultimately, the justification of Abraham (and sinners) is about living toward a “new future” that is created by the promise, one “free from the future of sin” (159). Reno concludes that the Roman and Protestant view of justification can be reconciled, just as James’ take on Abraham can be reconciled with Paul’s. He doesn’t show that from Scripture, however.

In sum, Reno’s commentary will prove a helpful addition to a theological library. Even with its linguistic ambiguities and lack of exegesis, the literary format and thoughtful discussions make the book worthwhile. While this book is not a first-tier resource for the weekly grind of sermon preparation, it is exactly the type of resource needed to break the pastor out of the occasional rut and help him appreciate anew the breadth and depth of God’s Word and the many theological titans throughout history who have reflected upon it.

Reviewed by Stephen Roberts, MDiv