I’m a pastor and Bible college professor and have greatly enjoyed this commentary series because it balances theological depth with the need to help preachers prepare sermons. It provides exegetical help, as well as ideas for sermon content.

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The main strength of this volume is the depth of material and insight into each preaching passage. You will get 40-50 pages of detailed explanation for each passage, as Spencer offers word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase commentary. She engages with the latest scholarship, but also shows the maturity of thought that comes from working with and reflecting on the text for many years. The reader benefits from the fruit of her labor.

There are two weaknesses of the volume. One is the fact that it breaks up the book of James into just five large passages. Someone preaching through the book would likely break it up into 10-14 preaching units. It would be more helpful to the preacher if the commentary was organized according to likely preaching pericopes. This would help the preacher more easily access the theological points of the smaller passages.

Another weakness for the preacher is how heavily weighted it is toward exegetical depth versus homiletical help. This is a challenge for any commentary that tries to engage in both. While there are dozens of pages of exegetical analysis for each of the larger passages, there are only a few pages with homiletical insights.

Those weaknesses should not keep someone from this great commentary. It will be the first one I consult when preaching from James and I will likely require it for my preaching classes where the students preach from James.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

In the wake of the Parkland school shootings and the debate & protests that have followed, there has been one thing nagging at me. Both sides in this debate want the easy answer.

For gun rights advocates, the easy answer is to leave things as they are. No one affiliated with the NRA is happy about these school shootings. People who engage in hunting or shooting sports (or just keep a gun for protection) value life and wish these things didn’t happen. But they see that bad things are going to happen in an evil world and limiting constitutional rights isn’t worth what would be a failed attempt to stop violence. Besides, we more need more concealed carry training so Americans are prepared and allowed to defend themselves. That’s an easy answer.

For gun control advocates, there must be a way that laws could be put in place to stop the innocent slaughter of kids in school. And so they debate legislators and hold rallies in an attempt to find the set of laws that will prevent this sort of thing from happening again. Again, it’s an easy answer.

Neither of these easy answers will solve the problem because neither addresses the root cause of the violence: sin. When we look at the background of the shooter at Parkland (or Sandy Hook, or Littleton…) we see a young man who had a seriously rough life. In this way he was sinned against. There are children in every classroom who are in similar situations. They are dealing with broken homes, abandonment, abuse, poverty, and general physical, emotional, & spiritual neglect. They are sinned against by the people charged with protecting them and by the world at large. That’s the common denominator in all of the school shootings.

That’s not to excuse the shooters. There is no excuse. But it goes a long way to understanding why arming every American or passing more laws won’t stop the shootings. Those easy answers are attrative because we want the problem to go away quickly and with as little effort on our part as possible. We want a stroke of a pen to make it all go away.

The answer to gun violence is simple. Kids in classrooms need to befriend those who are normally outcasts. They need to be more accepting of the kids who seem weird. Adults (teachers, neighbors, family members) need to invest their time in these kids so they know someone loves them and that they are valued. The same goes for kids in high-crime urban areas. Why woudn’t we expect kids subjected to abandonment, abuse, and neglect to get violent? And ultimately these kids need to know that God loves them and created them for a unique role in this world.

This answer is simple, but hard. It requires us to sacrifice time and comfort to build into other people, some of whom aren’t even in our family. And that’s why I think we’ll still have one side pushing for more guns and the other side pushing for fewer. Those are easy answers. And ones that won’t work. The real answer is very hard.

There’s a simple way for us to significantly reduce the gun violence in the United States. I mean, it’s simple. But we’re not going to do it.

No, it’s not passing new gun laws. I’m not simply expressing my opinion. In a thoughtful piece in the Washington Post, a statistician who is personally anti-gun admits gun laws won’t reduce gun violence. She and her colleagues analyzed gun deaths in the United States and found:

As my co-workers and I kept looking at the data, it seemed less and less clear that one broad gun-control restriction could make a big difference. Two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States every year are suicides. Almost no proposed restriction would make it meaningfully harder for people with guns on hand to use them.

But what about the other one-third of gun deaths? Isn’t there a law that could keep some of those from happening?

However, the next-largest set of gun deaths — 1 in 5 — were young men aged 15 to 34, killed in homicides. These men were most likely to die at the hands of other young men, often related to gang loyalties or other street violence. And the last notable group of similar deaths was the 1,700 women murdered per year, usually as the result of domestic violence. Far more people were killed in these ways than in mass-shooting incidents, but few of the popularly floated policies were tailored to serve them.

Understand, the writer wants new gun laws to solve the problem. But she examines the numbers with integrity and finds they won’t have a significant impact. Relatively few people die in mass shootings (although even a single death is horrific). Most die from suicide, gang/drug killing, or domestic violence.

Her conclusion is the only way to prevent gun violence is to have people step in to help others in these situations. It requires “being there” for people who may be prone to suicide. We need mentors for young people who are at risk of being involved in gangs and/or drugs. We have to give the police the resources they need to step up protection for women involved in violent domestic situations.

And that’s why I say the solution to the gun violence problem is simple, but it’s one we won’t do. Solving these shootings requires us to get involved on a daily basis. It takes a lot of time and energy. It gets messy. It’s emotionally draining. We live busy lives and often lack the patience to give hours and hours to help people who need us in these situations. And because of that the gun deaths continue.

Certainly I’m not speaking about everyone. There are many who do try to help. But not enough of us (yes, I’m including myself in this) make the time and energy sacrifice necessary to make a real difference. The stats show us laws won’t stop the violence. Only people can do that. Will we finally step up?