Betts, T.J.. Amos: An Ordinary Man With an Extraordinary Message. Scotland: Christian Focus Publishing, 2011. 208 pp. $15.99. Purchase at Westminster for less.
Dr. Betts serves as the Assistant Professor of Old Testament Interpretation, School of Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He has pastored for more than fifteen years. He has also written Ezekiel the Priest: A Custodian of Tora in addition to contributing articles to The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, the Biblical Illustrator, The Challenge of the great Commission, and The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Furthermore, he writes with heart-felt conviction and from personal experience of a gracious and merciful God.
Divided into fourteen chapters with a conclusion over 208 pages, Dr. Betts treats the nine chapter book of Amos with precision. The first chapter lays the foundation for better understanding that Amos was not the man we would have chosen for the job, but then again, God does not look upon man as we do! We are also shown that the mission in which Amos was given was not the choice mission.
After this introductory chapter, Dr. Betts delves right into the heart of the book. He spends a chapter on the judgment of Israel’s neighbors as well as a chapter showing the wrong way in which we respond to God’s grace. Continuing through the book of Amos, the reader is treated to an understanding that being granted responsibilities is a privilege that should never be underestimated.
The fourth chapter of Amos, the fifth in the book, looks at our self-centeredness while chapter six exhorts us to seek after God. As Betts moves through the center portion of Amos, he explains how confidence can become a god and complacency can kill. All of this points to the necessity of trusting in God and witnessing His judgment and mercy while the prophet intercedes. The final few chapters conclude with the justice of God in passing judgment and finally, that the Lord always keeps His promises.
Amos offers the reader an in-depth study of what is classified as a “minor prophet” which is really a misnomer given the importance of their role in Israel during a time of upheaval. While the positive does outweigh the negative, I believe both can go either way depending on one’s perspective. For the purpose of this review, I will offer the perspective of a pastor, a lay teacher, and an interested Christian wanting to know more about a particular book of the Bible.
The positive of Amos is found in its readability and accessibility. Dr. Betts masterfully weaves through difficult passages of an ancient text and explains to the reader how something written thousands of years ago to a people group that no longer exists as they once did (though they still exist today!) still applies to the reader of today. As a pastor, reading Betts’ work will challenge your exegesis and hermeneutic ability to relate this work to a modern audience in sermon form.
Most lay leaders (think Sunday School teachers) tend to shy away from the “minor prophets” because of their seeming irrelevancy to the modern Christian as well as the simple truth that many fear the unknown. Let’s be honest, many of the “minor prophets” are unknown today! The truth is, Betts offers the lay leader a wonderful introduction to a book that is often left untouched in study. Just having this work alongside the text will greatly enable the lay leader to instruct his or her class in the importance of reading and applying Amos.
Concerning the Christian who just wants to know more about the book of Amos and not necessarily teach it, again, the readability and accessibility of this resource is a breath of fresh air. Much of what is offered this particular reader is so watered down that nothing can be gleaned that would be beneficial to the soul. Betts never wavers from an inerrant, authoritative understanding of the Bible as he guides the reader on a journey using excellent illustrations and personal experiences that every child of God can relate to.
The critical in this particular work will actually depend on your perspective. Please allow me to qualify this section of the review: I believe this particular commentary series was written with the “everyday Christian” in mind as opposed to the scholar and pastor though they can be aided in their study as well.
From the pastor’s (scholar) perspective, this book is lacking in the area of technical conversation. Granted having too much of the technical will greatly reduce the readability and accessibility of the work, there still needs to be enough of the technical to warrant serious consideration for the thorough study that is required when preparing a sermon or teaching series. Yes, there are some footnotes that could lead to deeper study, but, for the most part, Dr. Betts does not delve into textual variations or original languages as much as say the New International Commentary on the Old Testament would. Again, this is more an issue of audience and perspective.
From a lay leader’s perspective, the same argument could be made though often times, the Sunday School teacher would rather not go into all that detail. Still, the teacher may learn quite a bit more than bargained for and wind up deciding that this wrestling with the original languages and the exegetical choices to be made do indeed have a major impact on the lesson plan and what the Holy Spirit is teaching in a particular passage.
Concerning the “average Christian” interested in studying more about the book, not having the more technical conversations may be detrimental to the growth of the believer. If, for example, somewhere down the line, this believer never knew there were such things as textual variations, they may be blind-sided by the “more educated” Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon which could ultimately be detrimental to their faith. Regardless, there is just enough of wrestling with the exegesis that the average reader will implicitly understand that there is more than meets the eye to just a simple reading of Scripture if one wants to study the Word of God in greater depth.
Depending on your needs, Amos may or may not be a resource you need. Nonetheless, Dr. Betts has written an excellent commentary that deals with an ancient text in a way that shows “how relevant it is” for the believer today. Because of his ability to deal with the subject manner in such a way that this resource can effectively be used by the pastor, the lay leader, and the “average Christian,” I highly recommend adding this resource to your library. If the rest of the commentary series has achieved the excellent standards presented by Dr. T.J. Betts in Amos: An Ordinary Man With an Extraordinary Message, then this series will prove invaluable to any who wants to study the Word of God.