Wow! What an amazing work this is. Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey is an impressive textbook from author Mark Allan Powell.
The first thing to notice is the sheer beauty of this book. It is filled with over 500 illustrations of artwork and photos from different countries and various time periods. How many college/seminary textbooks could you leave on a coffee table and have it easily capture the attention of your company? You can with this one. And while they are admiring the pictures they might want to read the sidebar on "What did Paul look like?" (238) or see the fascinating chart on "Male/Female Parallels in the Gospel of Luke." (158) But as Powell explains in the preface the art is not simply to make the book look pretty. "More importantly," he says, "I hope the art will convey something of the influence of these writings--the importance of the New Testament to history and to culture." (11)
But I don't want to give you the wrong impression--this is a first-rate textbook. It covers the standard material found in an introductory text: overview, historical background, distinctives and major themes. A strong feature of the book is that the discussions are descriptive. That is to say Powell lays out a spectrum of opinions rather than arguing for one particular viewpoint. This allows a teacher the flexibility to guide the class in which ever direction they prefer. For example, there is a chart on "Chronology for Paul's Letters" which provides the "Earliest Suggested Date" on the left and the "Latest Suggested Date" on the right. (247)
But now I come to my favorite feature. Throughout the book there are "hyperlinks" which can be found on the website introducingnt.com. This website is full (and I mean full) of bonus materials both for the student and professor. For the student there are flash cards, bonus articles on various subjects and "self quizzes." I took the quiz for chapter one and only missed two. Not too shabby for not having read the chapter! For the professor they have power point outlines and a compete test bank. (This material is provided from the publisher after you provide the necessary information.) There is some overlapping content from the book but there is a lot that is unique. I enjoyed going through some of the flash cards which will make an excellent study aid.
Some will be disappointed that the discussions are fairly brief. But after listening to the author interview on the website I understand he wanted to maximize time for a teacher to supplement and engage the student in a variety of ways. He says he wanted to present the data and then "get out of the way." In some respects I like this. I've had too many classes where I read the assignment for the day and then after the class was over realized the teacher "taught" me what I just read! I could have just bought the book and taken another class. This book does not "steal the teacher's thunder" as Powell puts it. I would note that Powell may not always be neutral on some issues. In skimming the book I noticed where he says "This idea that Paul was the true founder of Christianity is an exaggeration." (231) He then proceeds to lay out a couple of arguments in support of the position. I completely agree but clearly Powell is stealing at least a little thunder. On the other hand he offers a couple of reasons why "most scholars" believe in a late date for the Gospel of Mark (around 70 A. D.) but does mention that a "few scholars" argue for an earlier date (before 60) and he notes that this date "is not impossible." (130) He does not, however, offer any evidence on behalf of the early date.
This is only my first impression. I would like to offer a more extensive review later. For now I can see the real benefit in a work like this.
Mark Allen Powell is the Robert and Phyllis Leatherman Professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. The book is hardcover with 560 pages and sells for $44.99. Professors interested in obtaining an exam copy may go here.