Book Review | Expository Outlines & Observations on Romans by Rob Ventura

Sep 1, 2023 | Articles, by Nick Kennicott, Marrow Ministries Free Content

Ventura, Rob, Expository Outlines & Observations on Romans: Hints and Helps for Preachers and Teachers. Ross-shire: Mentor, 2023

I just checked my Logos Bible Software to find 160 different commentaries on the book of Romans, and another dozen or so on my bookshelves. Romans is one of the most commented-on and preached books of the Bible, so do we really need another commentary on what John Piper called “The greatest letter ever written”? The newly released Expository Outlines & Observations on Romans by Rob Ventura is uniquely designed, not to replace other commentaries, but to assist preachers and teachers of God’s Word in navigating Paul’s epistle and the mountain of resources that are already available.

When the Apostle Peter wrote “There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16), I would not be surprised if he was referring to Paul’s epistle to the Romans. The Apostle Paul is the greatest theologian of the Christian church, and so it is to be expected that some of what he has written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit will be difficult to grasp. More than most books of the Bible, Romans is filled with passages that theologians have not been able to agree on, likely from the first time it was read. Nevertheless, Christians have an important responsibility to seek to understand the text that God has given to His people, and often that is best accomplished with the assistance of faithful guides. Ventura proves to be just that.

In the preface Ventura notes, “While Romans is a well-served letter, surprisingly, I did not find many resources which gave me quick, accessible, expository nuggets to help me prepare Greek-informed, hermeneutically-sound, and homiletically-clean, sermons in time for preaching each week. Further, I noticed that few of the commentaries I used had any real practical and pointed applications to help bring home the truths of the text to the hearts and minds of my hearers. To address these matters, I wrote the book.” This volume delivers what it promises.

Expository Outlines & Observations on Romans provides helpful insights into every verse of Paul’s letter to the Romans. He begins by highlighting each passage’s general theme. Preachers and Bible teachers can sometimes wander in their exposition of a biblical text, diverting their attention from the main idea of a passage. Reminding oneself of the general theme is a helpful way of keeping the focus where it belongs. Preachers may also find the general themes helpful in developing sermon titles. Ventura then offers a homiletical outline of each passage, followed by a short summary of the section that provides both biblical insights and helpful teaching tips for how one might break down a passage into smaller parts. Next, each text is examined for exegetical and practical insights. By no means is Ventura attempting to explain everything that could be understood about each verse, but provides enough information for the reader to begin making discoveries of their own. An element that is often overlooked by readers of any book is the footnotes; however, many of my favorite insights are tucked away at the bottom of these pages, making the footnotes an indispensable element of this commentary. They are not merely bibliographic citations but are filled with additional quotes, Greek help, Scripture references, and valuable comments that help readers direct their individual study.

This commentary will help busy students of the Word of God focus on the best of what’s available alongside a helpful, straightforward, practical, exegetical approach to the text. Share on X

Unlike many “practical” or “homiletical” commentaries, this is not a simple reprinting of Ventura’s own sermons through the book of Romans. It is not filled with anecdotes or illustrations, but straightforward exegesis that bypasses much of the technical minutia that is often found in other commentaries. In other words, Ventura does the homework that busy pastors are not often able to get to in their weekly sermon preparation. For example, while most preachers are familiar with the Greek language, they readily admit their inability to commit meaningful time to studying the nuances of each text in significant detail. Here, Ventura highlights where there are important words and phrases to take note of that can be missed in the English translations. He is careful not to write the sermon or Bible study for the reader but provides enough information to keep the train on the rails.

One aspect of Ventura’s work that I think many preachers and Bible teachers will find helpful is the “suggested applications from the text for the non-Christian.” While preaching is primarily for the church, there are always non-believers in a congregation who need to be challenged in their thinking and beliefs and called to faith in Jesus Christ. Many commentaries (and as a result, unfortunately, much preaching) are so focused on the particulars of the text that the idea of preaching for conversions is often lost. It is the responsibility of the preacher to proclaim the free and well-meant offer of the gospel, and sermons are not Christian sermons if they are void of the gospel. In this volume, Ventura helps those who stand behind the sacred desk to consider how each passage can be brought to bear on the souls of those who remain in darkness and call them into the marvelous light. There are also “suggested applications from the text for the church” that are particularly helpful in some of the more complex theological passages of the epistle. Many pastors and Bible teachers struggle to apply doctrinally heavy passages in sermons and Bible studies. The suggested applications are simple and can be used to provoke further thoughts about how each text can be made relevant to the listener.

Since there are so many commentaries available on Romans, it can be an overwhelming task to try to mine the riches of what others have written throughout the history of the Church. It would take even the most avid reader years to get through everything that has been written about Paul’s epistle. Thankfully, Ventura provides helpful quotes and insights from the early church fathers, reformers, Puritans, and modern theologians from various theological backgrounds while maintaining a distinct, confessionally reformed, and baptistic focus. In many ways, Ventura’s commentary serves as a compendium of the best of what other great expositors have said about the text.

My favorite section of this commentary is chapter 11. Undoubtedly, the meaning of Romans 11 is one of the most disputed chapters of the Bible. It is not my favorite section because I agree with Ventura’s conclusions, although I do, but because he deals honestly and straightforwardly with other perspectives while providing a clear explanation of what he believes the text is teaching. Ventura writes, “I realize that there are good and godly commentators and pastors who will differ with some of my perspectives on this chapter. None of this should cause animosity between us. Rather we should have Christian love for each other (John 13:35) and open dialogue as we seek to sharpen one another (Prov. 27:17).” Preachers and Bible teachers serve their congregations well when they are honest about their understanding of a passage not being the only interpretation, and Ventura does a great job in modeling how a humble servant can approach textual challenges with reverence. Honesty about difficult texts builds trust between a preacher/teacher and their listeners, allowing them to then give their best effort at explaining what they have concluded.

Preaching through the book of Romans was one of the most rewarding experiences in my pastoral ministry thus far. It is a book filled with glorious truth that will make any believer’s heart sing. I hope to have an opportunity to do it all over again in the future, and when I do, Expository Outlines & Observations on Romans will be the first resource I consult each week. It is refreshing to have a trustworthy tool that does not claim to be the one that will make all others obsolete. This commentary will help busy students of the Word of God focus on the best of what’s available alongside a helpful, straightforward, practical, exegetical approach to the text.

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