Book Reviews, Guest Posts

Guest Post: A Review of Thomas Coutouzis’ “Agonizing for the Faith”

If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (as outlined in my “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs in the blue menu bar at the top of this page) and you’d like to contribute a guest post, drop me an e-mail at MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com, and let’s chat about it.

(In case anybody might be confused, a few weeks ago, the author of this book, Thomas Coutouzis, reviewed Jackie Hill-Perry’s “Bible” study on Jude for us. Today’s review is a review of Thomas’ book on Jude by my friend Jason.)


A Review of Thomas Coutouzis’
“Agonizing for the Faith:
A Biblical Exposition of Jude”

by: Jason Marianna

If there is any book of the Bible that speaks directly to most of the issues faced by the 21st century church, that book is Jude. The 21st century church faces a unique problem: The proliferation of media, primarily the internet, not only gives everyone a platform, but it gives the impression that all who have a platform deserve it. Christians are pulled in many directions and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of media – with each content creator doing his or her best to convince the Christian what they teach is worthy of their audience’s time. It is a perfect breeding ground for false teachers to slip into the church unnoticed and unquestioned. In this media environment, they thrive on the ability to communicate their message as effectively as true teachers. Many of the people bringing a dish to pass at your church’s potluck (or “love feast”, if you will) are under their influence in a variety of ways, both directly and indirectly.

Thankfully, God has given us the book of Jude. To read Jude is to understand the grave importance of recognizing false teachers and the subtle traps they lay for God’s people. Much like the elect, false teachers do not walk around with a stripe on their back so you can recognize them. They are instead the proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing. They go to church, they smile, they even talk a lot about the Bible. Nonetheless, the things that should honor God instead, for them, become a lure to separate you from your money, your joy, your holiness, and (if it were possible) your God. Jude wants God’s people to know these “hidden reefs” are all glitter and no gold – clouds without water. More than that, Jude wants you know how to answer them. He wants you to wage war against them, and all the while maintain a love, concern, and affection for saints under their influence. Jude asks you for nothing less than to “agonize” for the faith.

Yet, in my experience, Jude may be the most overlooked book of the New Testament. Never once have I heard a Christian remark to me that it was his or her favorite book. I never see it in the list of books that new Christians must read first. It is not ignored, but it is certainly not emphasized. In light of the aforementioned pitfalls of the 21st century environment, the church needs to know about the hidden dangers that lie just below the surface. Christians need to know now more than ever about the “unreasoned animals” that prowl around them so readily in our time. Today, perhaps more than ever, God’s people need the book of Jude.

Thank God that Thomas Coutouzis understands this. In his excellent commentary, Agonizing for the Faith, Coutouzis takes Jude’s 25 verses and causes them to blossom into a robust and substantial weapon in the hands of the believer. More than that, Coutouzis sounds the alarm about false teachers which, at times, sounds as much like a battle cry as it does a warning. He pulls no punches and takes no prisoners when it comes to the enemies of the faith; naming names and directing sharp, effective attacks. Yet, Coutouzis knows when to put the sword away and encourage loving concern and gentleness for the elect confused and oppressed by false teaching.

Biblical commentaries usually fall into three categories. The first is purely technical. These are commentaries on language, history, context, and culture. They say less about what the text means and more about what the text says. For teachers, these commentaries are invaluable as they help us understand the dead languages and the ancient situations that inform the idioms and peculiarities within the text. For the average believer just trying to understand what the Bible means, these commentaries are usually more hazard than help. Coutouzis in no way ignores the technical aspects of Jude. In fact, he not only demonstrates competence with the Greek language but also possesses the rare ability to explain it in plain, down to earth ways without sounding like an English teacher. Additionally, Coutouzis shows great skill in explaining the extra-biblical references Jude makes in verses 9, 14, and 15. Yet, it cannot be said that Coutouzis has written merely a technical commentary. Agonizing for the Faith is too readable and accessible for that.

The second kind of commentary is a devotional. The focus of these commentaries are application and practicality. Matthew Henry is the prime example of this type. Commentaries of this sort are helpful to the common believer and teacher alike. For the common believer, they are easy to read and speak directly to living the Christian life. For the teacher, they help to focus our lessons on how the believer can carry out what we teach after they leave the class or sermon. Agonizing for the Faith offers plenty of application. Coutouzis speaks to our present age and the real situations it presents for many believers. He often walks his reader through the everyday practical implications of what Jude is saying. Yet, it would be an empty compliment to call Agonizing for the Faith merely a good devotional book. Make no mistake, every believer will be edified to read it, but for reasons that go far beyond that of a typical devotional.

While it is important to remember that almost every commentary contains elements of all three types, it is the main thrust of the commentary that determines its category. Therefore, it is the third type of commentary where we must categorize Agonizing for the Faith. Coutouzis has written an expository commentary. An expository commentary is one that goes verse by verse and word by word to flesh out every aspect of the Biblical text. John MacArthur writes his commentaries in this way. The advantages of the expository method are on full display in Agonizing for the Faith. Coutouzis writes about every word and doesn’t allow himself to skip difficult passages. He goes where the text goes and allows it to speak for itself. Yet, Coutouzis’ perception and insight is on full display in the process. Jude is a densely packed seed of nutrition for the hungry believer. Under Coutouzis, it blossoms and grows.

While I have much good to say about Agonizing for the Faith, it was by no means a perfect book. On occasion, Coutouzis quoted from secondary sources when his text would have been bolstered by interacting with primary sources. While I don’t reject the usefulness of resources like CARM or the Encyclopedia Brittanica, citing them is beneath the high standard Coutouzis has set for himself. Once or twice I felt Coutouzis did not prove his point as thoroughly as he should have. On occasion, particularly chapter 4, it seemed he imposed upon his readers too much of his background research. Also, while I’m eternally grateful to every author that uses footnotes instead of end notes, Agonizing for the Faith has one glaring absence: A bibliography. Coutouzis misses an opportunity not only to give credence to the obvious great depth of his research but also to bless his reader with authors and books where they could learn more. It is my hope that subsequent printings will fix this – I consider it to be the book’s worst shortcoming.

Nonetheless, we should not expect every author to be perfect nor should we allow perfect to be the enemy of good – or in this case allow perfect to be the enemy of great! For while Coutouzis may have a few minor and forgivable shortcomings, he makes up for them several times over. Chapters 1 and 2 were exceedingly quotable. Chapters 5 and 6 were informative. I particularly found chapters 8 and 9 helpful in my own ministry, and chapter 10 was so rich that I made myself read it twice. In fact, as I flip through my copy, I find notes, highlights, and underlines on almost every page. This book blessed me, encouraged me, and just plain fired me up.

In particular, I want to point out one chapter that is the best display of Coutouzis’ excellence. Chapter 12 deals with verses 20-23 of Jude. When discussing verses 22-23, Coutouzis alerts us on page 142 “Every commentator that I have read believed that these groups are all unbelievers within the church…” and then goes on to make his most courageous and dangerous remark in the book “…while I don’t think that is the case for any of these three.” I remember pausing here to absorb what I had read. This is risky for an author, particularly in a book of this type. He was telling his reader “no one agrees with me”. He was asking his audience to trust him. Any author writing about Scripture who does this had better not only be right, he’d better prove it. It’s not as if “majority rules” when it comes to Scripture – truth rules – but a declaration that no one else agrees is to say that many intelligent and godly men who have gone before him are wrong.

What followed was not complicated nor elaborate. In fact, Coutouzis never once refuted the opposing viewpoints. Instead Coutouzis did what he had been doing the entire book: faithful exposition with rigorous exegesis offered with clever insight and humility. Step after step, word after word, idea by idea Coutouzis let Jude speak for itself; and in doing so he convinced me. He was right, and the cadre of commentators were wrong. Coutouzis does more than win an argument, he offers a convincing and consistent view that spurs his reader to love, concern, and caution for weaker brothers caught up in error. This master stroke of Coutouzis’ book should also be its legacy. We ought to rebuke false teachers, marking and avoiding them at all costs. Yet at the same time, our attitude toward Christians caught up in their error ought to be one that reflects our Lord’s: to love and endure much, and yet compromise nothing.

If my reader will indulge me, I wish to say a brief word about Christian literature and publishing. Agonizing for the Faith is a self-published book. What used to be called “vanity publishing” is typically exactly that – a vanity project. Most self-published books in the Christian world are not worth your time. While I’m glad there is an outlet for creative writers and other writers in niche interests, I also believe those in academic fields benefited from a vetting process that printers and publishers used to provide. Yet, Coutouzis serves as a reminder that the world of self-publishing is not entirely devoid of quality work. If the Christian publishing world can find time and money to publish garbage such as Joel Osteen and Beth Moore, some publisher somewhere should surely find the time to publish Coutouzis. Every Christian publisher that passes on him makes a mistake. He’s demonstrated through this book that he is worth their investment.

It ought to be your ambition to read material that edifies, books that feed your soul, authors that faithfully teach the Word of God. In every sense, Coutouzis’ book fits the bill. Agonizing for the Faith belongs in your library. As you soak up what it has to offer, you’ll be better informed, better equipped, and (God willing) eager to put its teachings into practice. Not only will it serve you well in your own spiritual growth, I also feel it would make an excellent book for a women’s/men’s study or a Sunday school class. It’s the best commentary I’ve ever read of Jude’s precious book. I enthusiastically recommend it to you and pray it will fire you up, as it did me, to agonize for the faith.


Jason Marianna was saved solely by God’s grace when he was 16 years old.  When he’s not leading Bible studies and teaching children in his church, he works as an automation engineer in Pittsburgh PA.  Jason is a father of 4 and is married to a woman he doesn’t deserve.  He and his wife have a heart for orphans, particularly foster children, and have adopted 3 of the 5 children they’ve fostered so far.  Jason is a freelance writer who wants to write for your blog or publication.  You can follow his opinionated and eclectic Twitter feed, or connect with him on Good Reads.


 

1 thought on “Guest Post: A Review of Thomas Coutouzis’ “Agonizing for the Faith””

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