Phil Moore’s commentaries make the Bible accessible, but cut some theological corners

These three books by Phil Moore come amid some excitement and a stellar list of back-cover endorsements. The general consensus seems to be that they are going to shake up the dusty and neglected world of Bible commentaries forever. As Michael Green exclaims: ‘These are alive!’ And yes, alive they are and exciting they are, but they do pose some interesting questions.

Phil Moore is pastor of a church in Wimbledon, London. His Straight to the Heart series each take one Bible book and then construct 60 bite-sized insights on each. It is a long way from academic approach to Bible commentary. The three here focus on Acts, Matthew and Revelation (a Bible book where only the brave dare to tread).

Let’s start with the good. It is genuinely refreshing to have this kind of resource. It will be a goldmine for preachers looking for relevant and zappy stories. Each book is marked by an effortless accessibility and a modern chatty style, linking in films and popular culture. Talking about Pentecost in his book on Acts, he casts it thus: ‘Everyone likes a good birthday party, and Luke tells us that God does too.’

In fact, all three books are brilliantly communicated with some really fresh insights. My hunch is that Moore is strongest when he is dealing with the big questions of faith – Christian apologetics. He has the knack of understanding the questions we all have and scratching where we itch. One particular passage in his book on Matthew is quite brilliant. In it, he recounts a conversation with a Muslim neighbour on the Bible and the Koran which is both loving and insightful. Elsewhere he captures some excellent metaphors and images to help us make sense of these ancient books – God’s Satnav is one worth exploring. Perhaps the best of the three, and one everyone should have on their bookshelves, is his book on Revelation. This is a no-go area for many Christians, but Moore deals with it with such insight and lightness of touch.

Ah, but if it only were as simple as this. Because there is a slight nagging doubt in my mind about some of the theology and the methods. It is great to be accessible and have that journalistic way of shortcutting to the main story and the angle. But that shortcutting does sometimes make you wince, as does the desire to be populist at all costs.

Two examples (there are many more): Moore recounts a story in his book on Acts of chasing a cat out of his garage and then having God speak to him clearly telling him that this cat incident was analogous to him being blessed with an authority over sin and sickness and Satan. I’m afraid at this point that tumbleweed blew across the Morris study. I am well aware that many of the more charismatic writers will punctuate their books with God talking directly to them, but I wonder if we need to be a bit more cautious and, dare I say, real. Bishop David Pytches, a signed-up charismatic, has recently warned against the ‘crassness displayed by some charismatics and their leaders.’ There is much truth in this.

In his book on Matthew, Moore makes some bold and rather controversial Christological statements. Jesus, according to Moore, came in disguise. It is a popular and snappy way to describe Jesus, but is it true? Jesus was all man and all God. His humanity was no disguise…he was human, totally and completely. We need to be very careful not to downgrade his humanity. Jesus was not God in disguise; he was God revealed.

Do these books break the mould and signal a new style of Bible commentary? Well yes in part, but I wonder if NT Wright does it far better and more reliably. So I’d say buy these, but do it with eyes open to the theological lens they are written through and read other accounts in order to keep things balanced.

HIGH: Great stories, accessible to everyone.

LOW: Bite-sized approach leaves some questions unanswered.