Teaching Romans, Vol. 1
Teaching Romans, Vol. 1, by Christopher Ash, is a rare book, at least in my experience. It provides significant and sound commentary on Romans, yet always intending to give highly practical insight for preachers, teachers, and facilitators alike.
It achieves a delicate balance. On the one hand, it differs from so many commentaries that, while seemingly exhaustive in their detailed consideration of the text and its historical treatment by others, might seem academic to the point of abstraction, at least to local church pastors. Ash is a thorough theologian, but with a constant eye toward applicability. However, and on the other hand, this emphasis on practicality transcends the pragmatic. In an age of gimmicky preaching, often with only cursory attention toward a particular verse or passage of Scripture, Ash equips pastors to prepare and preach thoroughly practical, Christ-centered expository sermons, among other possible applications of his work.
The book has three sections. The first provides introductory material regarding Romans. Therein, Ash describes how the epistle fits into the overall life and ministry of the Apostle Paul, as well as the contours of Roman church life at the time. He then offers a bird's eye view of the "big structure" of Romans. In particular, he describes "a Frame, sections at the start and end that are very specific about the sender, the recipients, the reason for writing, and so on" (pp. 23-24). This Frame, Ash argues, can help readers "grasp why Paul writes the letter, and therefore why he expounds the doctrines he does in the way he does" (pg. 24).
With these factors introduced, albeit in nascent form, Ash then addresses reasons for preaching and teaching Romans. He does so both negatively and positively, identifying weak reasons for doing so and then good ones. This culminates in a summary statement of the epistle's purpose: "The purpose of Romans is the glory of God seen in a united missionary church humbled together under grace" (pg. 37).
This opening section concludes with practical ideas for preaching and teaching a series on Romans. These suggestions are highly functional, with Ash aware of the challenges faced by local church pastors, teachers, and small group facilitators. As just one evidence, he provides several different options for teaching or preaching according, "medium-pace," "slower-pace," and ideas for "mini-series" (pp. 42-46). As a routine preacher, I found these thoughtful, practical, and - above all - helpful. Ash's book reads somewhat like the report of a docent.
The second and third sections, labeled "Coming Under Grace" and "Living Under Grace" consider Romans 1-4 and then Romans 5-8, respectively. Each features a brief but thorough commentary on pericopes within the recognized chapters, followed by pointers to the application, suggestions for preaching and teaching the text, and then the same for leading a Bible study. Each facet is helpful, but the pointers and ideas are what - in my opinion - most differentiates this work from others. Ash assists hurried and harried pastors.
Overall, I highly recommend this volume to its intended audience: preachers, teachers, and small group Bible study facilitators. While the sermon outline suggestions might not fit particular approaches to preaching within the broader Reformed tradition, they still provide excellent starting points and good points for consideration.