Exploring the riches of the BRF Resource hub

The BRF Resource hub is an amazing treasure chest full of information, ideas and inspiration, a compilation of materials from across BRF. The resources are available for everyone, and are particularly helpful for students, group leaders, those working in schools, children’s, youth and family workers, Sunday school teachers, RE teachers and leaders of collective worship (assemblies). It’s also a wonderful place for anyone to browse – though keep your eye on the clock: you could easily find yourself distracted for hours!

In the coming months we’ll be adding more material, starting with Stephen Finamore’s Romans Unwrapped, which will be released one chapter a time over the coming weeks. Here Stephen explains the background to his new work.

3 April 2022

Another study of Romans?

There are many things that the world desperately needs. Another study of Romans is probably not among them. But I’ve written one anyway.

Bible open to the letter to Romans

Nor is this the end of my tendency to test people’s patience. These studies have been written as though they are by Paul himself. I can imagine what some might say about this. My defence is that I wanted to take the underlying stories seriously, and writing in the first person seemed the best way to do this. I hope that this way of doing things will make Paul, his greatest letter and his patterns of thought a little more accessible.

Romans – a new approach

I had a particular reason for starting this project. I’d taught Romans to church groups and college students for more than two decades and I’d started to become a little frustrated with the available material.

Some studies treat the letter as though it’s a sort of textbook that fell from heaven without any roots in history. As a result, you get sermons full of dry accounts of sets of propositions.

‘I wanted to take the underlying stories seriously, and writing in the first person seemed the best way to do this.’

Other approaches regard Romans as a treasure trove of proof-texts. Verses are plucked out without regard for their place in the argument, then re-assembled so they present something that gets called the gospel. These publications can be useful, but few teach us very much about Romans itself.

Then there are study notes. They serve a vital purpose but are necessarily brief and so they usually focus on parts of the text. A thorough understanding of Romans may need more than most of them can offer.

Finally, there are the wonderful books that scholars write – introductions, monographs and commentaries. Most are quite brilliant. However, it seems to me that too many seem to be written as part of a conversation between specialists. It is at least possible that the volumes of tightly argued paragraphs, discussing first this theory and then that approach, might serve to first intimidate and then alienate even the bravest of us.

‘Volumes of tightly argued paragraphs, discussing first this theory and then that approach, might serve to first intimidate and then alienate even the bravest of us.’

The stories behind the letter

So, when I was granted a period of study leave, I decided I’d better write something myself. I set some goals.

First, I wanted to take seriously the stories that lie behind the letter. What was going in the Roman house churches to whom the letter was sent? Or in Paul’s own life when he sat down to write? And vitally, how did Paul understand the story of what God was doing? Or, to put it another way, how, if at all, did Paul think his ministry fitted in with the story of God told in the Hebrew Bible?

Next, I hoped to address the letter as a whole and not only favourite verses or passages.

Finally, the work should be serious but not technical, accessible without being simplistic.

This work is intended for everyone – I’m delighted that any reader chooses to engage with Romans – but I had certain audiences in mind when I wrote it.

There were my students who were having to grapple seriously with Romans, sometimes for the first time.

Then there were my fellow pastors and other church leaders looking for a resource that would help them teach and preach from the letter in fresh ways.

‘This work is intended for everyone – I’m delighted that any reader chooses to engage with Romans.’

Last, but not least, there were all the people I know who were looking for a kind of extended Bible study resource that would help them to get a little more of a grip on Paul’s longest and most significant letter.

I wanted to produce a kind of narrative commentary, and I wanted to find a different way to go about it. While thinking about this, it occurred to me that I might write the studies in the first person, putting the words into Paul’s mouth so that he could explain himself as the letter goes along.

I hoped this would make things more direct, more story-based, easier to follow, and more coherent. The strategy is intended to communicate the letter effectively. It is not a claim to any special authority or to exclude other views.

‘The strategy is intended to communicate the letter effectively.’

I am very grateful to BRF for supporting me in the approach I’ve taken and for their willingness to publish the material in this creative and imaginative way.

A satisfied reader comments

Becca Turnbull, BRF editorial assistant, helped prepare Stephen’s work for posting on the Resource hub. For Becca, it wasn’t just work, as she explains:

‘I admit I find Romans hard to understand at times and making sense of what Paul means can be a real challenge! Through Romans Unwrapped, Stephen has helped expand both my understanding and appreciation of Romans. I found his explanation of Romans 8 wonderfully encouraging – he acknowledges the reality of suffering while also pointing to the overarching promise of God’s good plan of salvation and redemption.

‘Stephen’s breakdown of Paul’s jargon was also really helpful. I now have greater clarity on what the law – or as he helpfully terms it, ‘the Instruction’, is (and isn’t), what it meant for the Jews then, what it means for us now and how Jesus is the ultimate fulfilment of it.

‘I’ve no doubt I’ll be coming back to Romans Unwrapped next time I open Romans and find myself stumped!’

Stephen Finamore is principal of Bristol Baptist College and writes for BRF’s Guidelines Bible reading notes. He is married to Rebecca and their two daughters are Debbie and Jen. Steve has worked as a pastor, a lawyer and in community development in inner London and the Peruvian Andes.

Really Useful Guides

Get to grips with the Bible with these exceptionally useful short guides!

Each Really Useful Guide focuses on a specific biblical book, making it come to life for the reader, enabling them to understand the message and to apply its truth to today’s circumstances. Though not a commentary, it gives valuable insight into the book’s message. Though not an introduction, it summarises the important aspects of the book to aid reading and application.

A new prayer for Ukraine

Creator God, who made us in your image,
thank you for the gift of empathy and compassion
which we inherit from you,
and which is being revealed
in this time of pain and suffering.
May the many acts of love, welcome, mercy and kindness,
which flourish, despite the sounds of warfare,
be multiplied by the power of your Spirit,
to bring hope, healing and peace
for the beleaguered people of Ukraine.
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Martyn Payne