Darian R. Lockett. Letters for the Church: Reading James, 1–2 Peter, 1–3 John, and Jude as Canon. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. 248 pages. $29.99 (paperback).
Darian Lockett is professor of New Testament at Biola University. Letters for the Church is a condensed version of his scholarly work on the General Epistles. In this volume, Lockett produces a highly readable and pastorally minded introduction to these letters. Before launching into a commentary on the individual books, Lockett covers some important introductory matters: (1) What are the General Epistles? (2) Why are the General Epistles important? (3) How do I use this book? An important element of this introduction is Lockett’s contention that the seven books (he does not include Hebrews) should be read as a collection and not just as individual letters.
After clarifying these questions and stating his main thesis, Lockett addresses each of the books in their canonical ordering (starting with James). The layout of the individual chapters begins with introductory issues such as authorship, audience, and date, and then moves through material as dictated by Lockett’s own general outline of the letter. The chapters also include breakout sections to explain major themes such as “Paul and James on Justification” and “The Literary Relationship Between Jude and 2 Peter.” Each chapter ends with a “Further Reading” section. The “further reading” is notated with symbols that differentiate the books as technical, recommended, or highly recommended. Particularly helpful is Lockett’s inclusion of books that cover a variety of methods, presuppositions, and ideological perspectives.
The text is judicious in its claims and takes mostly middle-of-the-road positions on contentious issues. The most intriguing and helpful aspect of the book is Lockett’s determination to show that these books belong together. Reading these books in tandem demonstrates a concern among the early church to wed orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Although they differ in audience, style, and themes, these seven books affirm the lordship of Christ, light over darkness, and an insatiable desire for holiness in all things. Lockett’s writing highlights these important themes and shows their coherence among the biblical books.
Letters for the Church is an ideal read for a bible study group or introduction to undergrads unfamiliar with the General Epistles. It also serves as a fitting entry point to the scholarly secondary literature.
Charles Nathan Ridlehoover, Ph.D. is a secondary teacher at North Raleigh Christian Academy, Raleigh, NC, and teaches New Testament and Greek courses at Columbia Biblical Seminary, Columbia, SC.