Another Commentary on Romans?
If you walked into any pastor’s study and started looking through his library, you would find that his section on Paul’s letter to the Romans takes up more bookshelf space than any other book of the Bible. There are so many commentaries on Romans. And there are so many good commentaries. Whether it is Luther and Calvin, or Shedd and Hodge, or Schreiner and Moo, or Murray and Lloyd-Jones, not to mention more recent commentators such as Garland and Kruse, the breadth and depth on Romans is unsurpassed. Seriously, why do we need another commentary on the book of Romans? I am preaching through Romans right now and I cannot get to every commentary on my shelf, let alone all the really good ones. I must be selective. As I start my preparation and get to the commentary stage, I have limited time and so I have my usual batting order. I have my leadoff hitter, I have my 2 and 3 spots, my cleanup hitter, and my 5th spot. When necessary, I go deeper into the bench. My starting lineup is filled with some time-tested All-Stars and the bench is deep. How is one more commentary on Romans going to help me in my sermon preparation?
Fair question! My friend Rob Ventura has provided an answer with his Expository Outlines and Observations on Romans: Hints and Helps for Preachers and Teachers (Mentor, 2023). If Rob was simply attempting to have a place next to Calvin, Murray, Schreiner, or Moo, then it would have been a fool’s errand. But Rob aimed at something different, and he achieved his goal.
Expository Outlines is a wonderful primer on each passage in Romans. First, it primes the pump on approaching the text. Rob lays out a general theme for the section. For example, the general theme of Rom. 2:1-16 is “God’s indictment against the deceived moralist” (65). Then Rob provides a homiletical outline of the text with the verses embedded in the outline. I found this to be incredibly helpful since it keeps the text before you. Then there is a summary of the section. As I have read through several sections, I think the summary works both as a conclusion after developing the outline, but it also works as an introduction and could easily be read first. This can help prime the pump for the Sunday School teacher, the Bible study leader, or the preacher, in seeing the big idea of the passage.
Rob then gives exegetical and practical insights and observations. This section reminds me of some of the older commentators, especially Matthew Poole. The observations are concise, and the text of Scripture is in bold, so it reads well. In my estimation, this section is most helpful for the layman who wants an exegetical digest of the text. It is exegetical without being too technical. Rob footnotes throughout with grammatical information, more exegetical detail, and support from other more academic commentaries. The interaction with the text is thorough, but not exhaustive. It is not bogged down with textual details or higher critical concerns. It flows. It struck me at one point, going through 10:14-21, that these observations could be used for one’s devotions or even family worship with older kids.
For the pastor who has already exegeted the text, he can interact with the exegetical insights as a dialogue partner. One does not have to agree with Rob’s exegetical insights to benefit from them. We don’t read commentaries to just find agreement, we read to better interact and engage with the text. Rob is faithful to his Reformed and Confessional standards, but he is supremely faithful to the text. This makes him an excellent dialogue partner in the exegetical process.
Often, after laborious exegesis, outlining, and commentary work, we have a good grasp on the meaning of the text, but the well of ideas for application may be dry. If a pastor is struggling with application, these practical insights are marvelously helpful. For instance, Rob’s first observation on Rom. 10:14-15 brings together Paul’s conviction of the sovereignty of God and Paul’s insistence that the Gospel be preached to the lost, followed up by some heart-stirring quotes from Spurgeon.
What Rob has done in Expository Outlines is unique. It is not simply a devotional commentary, nor is it strictly an exegetical commentary. It is a wonderful, edifying blend of exegetical digest with theological and devotional reflection. Rob has a gift of taking the modern scholars and the old masters and using them in a complementary manner. His citations of Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon, and others give some useful, useable juicy quotes that assist in making the point.
There are two distinct reasons that I believe vindicate the writing of Expository Outlines. The first is the value it provides in application; I know that I frequently need help in this area. Rob’s pastoral experience as a preacher shines through in the practical insights. But the second reason is that this book is a prime text for the laymen, the Bible Study leader, the Sunday School teacher, or the dad who is leading his family. I would not hesitate to put this work into the hands of small group leaders, or others, who are taking a group through the majestic book of Romans.
Expository Outlines and Observation on Romans serves a different purpose than a standard exegetical or expositional commentary. The word that continually comes to mind as I go through various section is “helpful.”
Where in the Line-Up?
To continue the baseball analogy, we come to game time. The manager needs to turn in his line-up card. He has strategically thought through the defensive positions and the batting order. Where does Ventura fit in the batting order of a full Romans roster?
In my own sermon preparation process, I make it a habit not to look at commentaries until I have adequately exegeted and worked through the text. I cannot interact with the commentaries unless I know what the issues and questions are. But once I get to commentary study, where does Ventura fit?
I could see many placing Expository Outlines in the leadoff spot in the lineup. The leadoff hitter needs to get the game going, he needs to get on base. A leadoff commentary must be one that orients me to the text. But I could also see Ventura in the 8th spot (before the National League went to the DH!). Before someone objects and thinks the 8th spot is for less talented kids, anyone who knows baseball knows the 8th spot hitter is the guy who makes good contact at the plate, he has the ability to move runners, but he also knows how to get on base. The 8th batter can be the spark to get things going later in the lineup. Expository Outlines may spark ideas for application, or how to preach the text more effectively. There is a steadiness and reliability about Expository Outlines that demands it be in the lineup. This is its value for pastors who can exegete the text for themselves and who benefit from the heavy hitter commentaries.
But what about the layman, who does not have the tools acquired in seminary, Ventura is in the leadoff position. Expository Outlines provides the layman with plenty of insight into the theme, the flow, the meaning, and the application of the text. This for many will become their “go-to” book on Romans. As they prepare a Bible lesson, this will be the first book they pull off their shelf. It will serve to get one’s mind and heart moving in a solid direction as they prepare to teach the text.
Rob Ventura is a pastor. He is a seasoned pastor. He writes from a pastor’s perspective. Rob is no ivory-tower scholar. He strives to help the people of God and to serve them. Expository Outlines is an excellent contribution in serving the people of God. Pastor, put this book on your shelf and consult with it regularly. It is edifying. Laymen, get this book and use it to help you teach Romans in whatever venue God has opened to you.
Why another commentary on Romans? Well, if that commentary was unique in its goal, easy to use, solid in content, helpful in format, rich in application, and sprinkled with the spices of the old paths, then you don’t have just another commentary on Romans, you have Expository Outlines and Observations on Romans: Hints and Helps for Preachers and Teachers.
The book can be purchased here:
Brian Borgman is the founding pastor of Grace Community Church. He earned a B.A. in Biblical Studies from Biola University (La Mirada, CA), a Master of Divinity from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary (Portland, OR) and a Doctor of Ministry from Westminster Seminary (Escondido, CA) and a ThM from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Historical Theology. Brian and his wife Ariel have been married since 1987 and they have three wonderful children and three grandsons.