The bottom line: A solid theological exposition of the Book of Acts.
In Acts Interpretation, Willimon takes the approach that the narrative of the early Christian “church” in Acts is not a closed tale, but one that is open-ended and plays out in the contemporary church each and every day.
Resultantly, the problems in the 21st century are a continuation of the dilemmas of the 1st century, and the book guides the reader on how to navigate these waters as the early church did—the lessons are sometimes obvious, sometimes shocking, and often illuminating. The author establishes his interpretive task to “hear the text of Acts questioning us” as an alternative to questioning the integrity of the text itself. This is done through insightful analyses in order to extract the broad themes and general ideas.
Through and through, the author provides a concrete and consistent analysis without wavering and successfully incorporates Acts into the cumulative whole of the Luke-Acts narrative. Willimon does a fantastic job of pointing out what the Book of Acts means for us today and produces plenty of practical commentary noting that, “the truth of the gospel is more than success in winning converts and martyrs. The gospel is a truth so demanding, so strange, that it is possible to get it wrong. Therefore we step back a moment from the drama of the spread of the good news to ponder the tragedy of the misunderstanding of it.” The book certainly will ground the reader back to the Biblical text.
Notably, in my mind, the author does a marvelous job of extrapolating a liberation theology in his treatment of Acts 16, rooting Christianity in the Jewish tradition, and establishing a clear line between spiritual forces and secular authority.
Two important notes: (1) As the author points out on page 7, “our concern is primarily with the theological content of Acts, and therefore we shall attempt to read Acts as a theological document.” As a result, anyone wishing to analyze this book from any other context will find little value in this commentary. (2) It becomes clear rather quickly that the author has a particular hermeneutical lens when interpreting the Scriptures into the context of the modern church and how the institution should operate. While some may disagree with this interpretation (and it is a sharp, highly personalized one), others may find it to be an honest breath of fresh air that challenges the church to contemplate exactly why it does what it does, and why it believes what it believes.
Teachers and preachers should read this book, and dedicated students of the Word should also consider it as a solid reference. This is another worthwhile addition to the Interpretation series of commentaries.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal