Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Corporate and the Individual in Paul: A Plea for Realism

Ok, so sometimes scholars make no sense.

Right now, I am studying Paul more in-depth. That means I am reading through his epistles every day and devouring as many books on Paul as possible. All of the books I have read have been very informative and helpful thus far.

However, one thing really bugs me about some recent Pauline scholarship--they make really stupid dichotomies.  For instance, in the very good book Justification: Five Views, the traditional Reformed position is attacked by pretty much every other view as placing too much emphasis on the individual when Paul was clearly more interested in the corporate. James Dunn particularly champions this as one of the strengths of the New Perspective.

Similarly, I just read a chapter in the very good book Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction His World, Letters and Theology, that talks about how Paul was predominately focused on the corporate church. They likewise have a little blurb in one of the sidebars about how individualistic our reading of Paul has become.

Ok. So I get it. Paul wrote to churches. He saw us all as a unified body. Here is my beef: who makes up the corporate body? Individuals. Yes, when one individual was out of line Paul saw it as affecting the entire church. No doubt. I think sometimes we do get far too individualistic when attending churches, thinking that it is just me and my family. But the it still goes back to this: an individual could bring down the group.

When Paul was talking about moral purity in Colossians 3 was he talking to the corporate body or to the individual? Yes. There is no way any person in that church thought to himself, "Oh Paul is talking about the church here...not me." The corporate doesn't work like that.

Similarly, when people talk about election in purely corporate terms, it makes no sense. Who makes up the corporate group? Individuals. So when Jews boasted in their election, yes they were boasting about their corporate election. But they were also boasting about their individual election as well that contributed to the whole.

I think Paul would have stated something like this: "There is no 'I' in church. But there is no 'church' without 'you'." In other words, individualism would have been chided by Paul if by individualism you meant going off and doing your own thing and living in sin without thinking of the larger ramifications.

But then that leads us back to this: Paul wrote to address how individuals ought to live in light of the corporate church. The two really are inseparable and both were addressed constantly in Paul's letters.

If someone charges that churches today are too Western and individualistic, I would say that that is probably too true. But I think that most preachers do a good job of reminding us that our individual sin impacts the larger body. I don't think individualizing Paul's words is bad because God was talking to individuals.

The whole thing strikes me a weird sort of straw-man argument launched by recent scholarship.

Friday, November 25, 2011

"Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts" Review

Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts (from here CP) by William J. Webb offers a rebuttal to Dobson, Grudem, Kostenburger and the like who advocating spanking from the Bible. By adopting a "Redemptive Movement" hermeneutic, Webb argues, one can see how there has been a trajectory sort of ethic through the OT to the NT.

Webb, of course, is building off his fairly controversial work Slave, Women and Homosexuals written back in 2001. If you disagreed with his conclusions in that book, there is probably nothing here that is going to convince you to adopt a "redemptive movement hermeneutic." If you found his first work convincing, you are probably going to like this work as well. My own thoughts?

1) Webb's argument, as Thomas Schreiner has pointed out here, needs to be a bit more nuanced. Webb was aiming this book at a more popular level than his previous work, so I give him a bit of flexibility here. However, given the fire-storm his last work created, I think it would have been wiser to write a bit more in-depth.

2) Having read Old Testament Ethics for the People of God by Christopher J.H. Wright, I think Webb's own approach is viable and helpful. In other words, Webb sees a concrete command in the OT and rightly abstracts it a bit more. Wright does virtually the same throughout his work and, though Wright's book is more comprehensive, I think both end up at the right conclusions.

3) It seems most people rule out Webb's book based upon the fact that he believes women could be pastors or leaders of a church. I'll grant that Webb's trajectory based hermeneutic favors such a conclusion. But even if one disagrees with that particular point of Webb's thinking, it is somewhat absurd to rule out every other argument he makes. I think Webb has done a brilliant job of taking troubling texts and using them to the advantage (!!!) of the conservative Christian.

4) I wish Webb would spend more time focusing on redemptive history so that I could see the larger paint strokes of his hermeneutic in action.

5) Read the book. It is clearly written and is concise. It really is a joy to read Webb and he is never dull (at least to me). You won't regret it. While you're at it read Slaves, Women and Homosexuals. It is perhaps one of the best works on hermeneutics written in the past decade (certainly it is one of the most bold). You won't regret that you did.

I have benefited tremendous from CP and William J. Webb's thinking. Definitely read this work!

*I received this work from IVP Academic in exchange for providing a review. I was not obligated to provide a positive review.*

Review of "Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith."

Douglas Groothuis, professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary, has written the most comprehensive textbook on apologetics to date with his newest book, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Clocking in at 676 pages, the scope of Christian Apologetics is simply astounding. However, this also works as a double-edged sword. While Groothuis covers many topics, he doesn't cover any one topic with the depth some might one. In other words, what Groothuis has written is a standard introduction to apologetics which argues the case for God.

I like the way Groothius writes. He is clear, conversational and interesting. He covers difficult topics with ease and it is actually a joy to read this text. As one might expect, Groothius leans heavily upon philosophy in his arguments. The author, however, has a unique approach to apologetics in that he doesn't depend on just one method (such as presuppostionalism or evidentialism). I like that--it doesn't box Groothius in and gives the textbook much more diversity.

All in all, there is nothing unique in the content covered in this book. Rather, what is unique is the amount of topics covered in this work. This is the new one-stop textbook on apologetics and I can see it becoming the standard work in the classroom for years to come. Definitely pick up this work if you are in need for an excellent primer on apologetics, written on the seminary level.

*IVP Academic provided me a review copy of this book in exchange for a review. I was not obligated to write a positive review.*

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Innovators, Renovators, Maintainers and Destroyers (Part I)

I have noticed that there are four basic people that attend a church: innovators, renovators, maintainers and destroyers. I don't know of anyone who has labeled it quite like this but various lists have different people. For simplicity sake, I normally just use this classification. Over the next few days I want to write briefly about each group and talk about how they can be used in the church.

These are the people that see things in totally new ways. They bring fresh, new ideas to the table. Some of the ideas might be totally crazy--others might be brilliant. Either way, these are great people to have in the church.

The obvious strength of innovators is thinking up new ways to do ministry. These guys are ahead of the curve and often come out with truly breakthrough ideas. It is not uncommon to see these guys as the heads of large churches because these are the ones with the newest ideas.

However, what is also cool is that these guys might be hiding in your church or (in my case) youth group. You know that annoying kid that keeps saying they should do some off the wall idea and everyone goes, "Hahahha...that is crazy but would be so cool..."? Yeah, that kid could be your next innovator.

The innovators strength can also be a weakness. Even though they are creative, they might not see the downside to their decisions. Some innovators are calloused and don't care who they hurt in implementing their ideas. Some innovators also have no clue on how to actually do what they want--they need some more realistic people to help implement their ideas. Innovators are also flakes because they have SO MANY good ideas and big dreams. In other words, an innovator probably isn't the guy you want running a singular ministry for the long haul because once it has been implemented, they often move on to the next thing.

How do I deal with Innovators?
If you are a pastor or youth pastor and ARE NOT an innovator, you need an innovator(s) on your team. They need to be mentored closely and unleashed for God's glory. Innovators can dream big and help you think outside of the box. However, at the same time, innovators can also be like shotguns--they shoot many things but not one thing with accuracy. You need to focus them so that they can become more focused.

Multiple innovators can either help spur one another on or end up fighting. Since they tend to be rather outspoken or calloused, you need to make sure that you deal with them on the issue of love. Even if their idea is right and absolutely awesome, you always need to consider the larger scale of the idea--how is this going to impact the church.

Innovators tend to fight with renovators and maintainers. Renovators think, "Why do something this crazy? Let's stick with updating our existing organization" and maintainers, if they don't buy into the idea think, "This guy is out of hand." Innovators need a strong panel of people to work with them because if they don't, they often have a VERY short life at a church. Innovators should not surround themselves constantly with other innovators because innovators often let other innovators run unchecked.

Because of the above, innovators often turn into destroyers, though unintentionally. I have seen many good ideas become the foundation of a church split because the innovator was left unchecked. Pride, as always, is a huge issue here.

The simple truth is this: a church needs an innovator or it will either die or always be behind the cultural curve. Innovators are God's gift to the church and, if mentored and used correctly, are a huge asset to church growth. Pastors who are not innovators need to also humbly listen to innovators who might have a great idea that should be utilized.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Old Testament Ethics for the People of God" Book Review

Let's get one thing straight from the beginning--Old Testament Ethics for the People of God by Christopher J.H. Wright, is a massive endeavor that is both breathtaking in scope and brilliance. It is difficult to evaluate a book that has been called "...a magnum opus" by David L. Baker. Nevertheless, I will attempt to undertake a brief review of this book.

The book breaks down into three main sections. Section one, entitled "A Structure For Old Testament Ethics" lays the groundwork for the entire book. Wright believes OT ethics should be viewed from three different, yet dependent lenses: the theological, social and economic. Wright devotes a chapter to each lens and covers each one well enough that it prepares the reader for his next section.

The next section, the real 'meat of the book' if you will, is entitled "Themes in Old Testament Ethics." As one might expect from the title, Wright explores the ethical ideas of various themes within the Old Testament, applying the various lenses to each situation. Each chapter felt pregnant with meaning for today, as Wright covered the topics of ecology, economics and the poor, the land, politics and the nations, justice and righteousness, law and the legal system, culture and family and the way of individuals.

While a detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this review, there were several major ideas that kept resurfacing throughout. First, Wright draws the readers attention to the communal aspect of ethics. Ethics were not just focused on the individual but the community. Second, all OT ethics are formed the presupposition that the whole Earth is the Lord's. Third, Wright reminds the reader that one of the major purposes of OT ethics was to reveal the nature of Yahweh to the nations. Each chapter was full of helpful ideas for the pastor and theologian. In my own experience of reading the book, I walked away with a deeper appreciation of how to interpret the Old Testament and in particular, how to understand the relevance of the Law in our own day. This is no superficial cutting and pasting of isolated texts ripped out of context to make them relevant for today. Rather, Wright has brought about a comprehensive understanding of how one might begin the task of Old Testament theology today!

The final section is by far the most academic, focusing on how to study Old Testament ethics. This section is clearly written for the scholar or beginning student, though I suspect even pastors could benefit reading through this section. While optional, it gives one a real appreciation of the amount of literature Wright has surveyed in his writing of this book.

Which leads to one of the greatest things I can say about the book--Wright keeps the pacing of this book perfect. He refuses to get bogged down in scholarly footnotes. Rather, the reader will find this magnum opus very accessible. For pastors and beginning students, this could not be more welcomed. Though my own research interest lies in New Testament, I found this book kept my interest and seldom left me feeling overwhelmed.

In conclusion, I simply cannot offer up enough praise for what Christopher Wright has accomplished with this book. Though it is already seven years old, if you still haven't read it, do yourself a favor and pick it up. If anything, it will leave you with a greater appreciation of the Old Testament and plenty of mental food to chew upon when it comes to ethics.

*Thanks to IVP Academic for providing me with a free review copy of this book. I was not forced to write a positive review of this book.*

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What Lindsay Lohan and Destructive Maga-Corporations Have in Common

There is a really good article at Al Jazeera about how the some of the world's largest corporations are guilty of destroying the eco-system. In other words, as Chip Ward argues, nature is part of the 99%

Here is the article.

Early this week, Lindsay Lohan was arrested and kept in jail for a whopping 4 1/2 hours. Eventually she was released because of overcrowding in the jail.

Here is an article about Lohan.

It doesn't seem like either Lohan or Ward's article have much in common. One deals with the destruction of the earth and the other deals with a girl who gets her own way and repeatedly shrugs off responsibility.

Ironically though, after some reflection, it is clear to me that Lohan and destructive mega-corporations have ONE major thing in common--both operate under a system that rejects that "The earth is the Yahweh's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein."
As Christopher Wright argues in his massive book Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, almost all, if not all, of Israel's ethics flowed from the fact that the whole earth belongs to God. When the prophets indict Israel, they remind them that their lack of justice is a reflection that they do not value what Yahweh values--a horrific sin since the world is Yahweh's.

Exodus 19:5 likewise sets down this standard--God desires to reach the nations since the whole world is His. Israel was called to reflect Yahweh to the nations--because they are Yahweh's!

So the sin of the me mega-corporation that exploits the poor and rapes the earth is the same sin as Lohan who lives as if she is the center of the world and free of justice. Both live as if the earth is not Yahweh's.

Which leads to an even more troubling discovery--often within the church itself this mindset is apparent. I recently attended the North Carolina Baptist State Convention and encountered way too many prideful pastors. The air was thick with ego. They too are guilty of the same sin as Lohan and the mega corporations--they forget that their pastorate and the size of the church is NOT their doing but depends on the fact that the earth is the Lord's.

Which leads to me. Do I not at times freak out about problems? Do I at times not worship God fully? Do I not get prideful? Do I not rely on self-righteousness? Yeah...all of the time. All of the time I forget that the earth is the Lord's.

Which perhaps means that Lindsay Lohan, destroyers of the earth and pastors like myself have more in common than we might think.


Friday, November 4, 2011

"God's Grand Design: The Theological Vision of Jonathan Edwards" Book Review

Confession: I love Jonathan Edwards. I can hardly find more challenging, invigorating and overall Spirit-anointed reading than Mr. Edwards. Last year, on the brink of exhaustion and frustration in ministry, it was the wise words of Jonathan Edwards that helped me focus on God's supremacy and kept me going through that difficult time. So the review that follows is probably biased from the beginning. That said, Edwards was one of the most brilliant theological minds in the past 500 years. Now, Edwards own theological thinking is systematized (somewhat) and presented in Dr. Sean Michael Lucas' book God's Grand Design: The Theological Vision of Jonathan Edwards.

God's Grand Design basically breaks down into two sections. Section one deals with Edwards' own redemptive history of sorts and section two deals with the ramification that redemptive history had on Edwards' own practical ministry. The chapters in the second section deal with things such as Edwards' view of the ministry of the Word, prayer, Heaven, and the Lord's Supper/Baptism. These chapters spell out how Edwards' theological vision worked out in his ministry.

The book quotes Edwards extensively and Lucas does a good job of keeping the pace of each chapter going. In other words, no chapter feels too long or too short. That said, Lucas does not do a good job of discussing how we might appropriate Edwards' thinking to the church today. I wish he would have spent more time applying Edwards to today.

All said, however, God's Grand Design is a very good book and a solid introduction into the theological thinking of Jonathan Edwards. It is a good read and has many excellent quotes. Of course, as in all of Edwards' writings, God takes center stage and Lucas does a great job of letting Edwards give us a beautiful vision of God. That alone should inspire worship and lead us to appreciate our great God even more.

*I was provided a free review copy in exchange for a review. I was not under obligation to give this book a positive review.*

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Genocide in the Bible: How Should We Respond? (Part II)

Yesterday I took a look at the first reason why genocide in the Bible, while tragic, was also necessary and in no way made God a moral monster. Today, I want to look at another reason that should be mentioned when discussing the issue of genocide in the Bible.

Reason #2: Responsibility, Liability and Ability
John Frame, in The Doctrine of God, has an extremely helpful discussion of the differences between responsibility, liability and ability (pp. 119-131). Let me attempt to summarize the differences using an illustration.

I love cookies. Now say that my wife makes a big plate of cookies and says "Daniel, don't eat these cookies. I made them for a potluck supper we are having at church." Then say that as she is out doing chores I invite some friends over and as we are watching TV our stomachs begin to growl. My friends see the cookies and immediately say "Come on, Daniel. Let's eat those cookies." We begin to eat them and before you know it, they are all gone! "Oh no," I groan. "Hayley told me not to eat those cookies." My friends might respond, "We had no clue we weren't suppose to eat those!"

So who is responsible for the cookies being eaten? All of us. You see, we all took part in the act of eating the cookies so we are all responsible.

But who is most liable, that is, who shares in the results of our actions? Frame states, "Responsibility in the sense of liability, has to do with the results of our actions. But the results of our actions are never entirely the results of our own decisions. Events in the world have multiple causes, and of course none of us causes anything by his free decision alone." (126) In this case, then, my friends would be less liable than myself since I had information they were not privy to and I did nothing to stop them. They are responsible but less liable.

Now from responsibility to liability we also need to talk about one final thing: ability. To return to our cookie example, imagine that I am sitting alone, watching TV when a robber comes in and at gunpoint forces me to eat the entire plate of cookies. Am I responsible for eating the cookies? Yes. Am I liable? No, since I was forced to do it against my will. Again, Frame states, "So ability, to some extent limits responsibility."

Now let's apply this to our issue of genocide. First we should note that the nations that Israel is told to devote to destruction were completely responsible for their actions. In Genesis 15:16 we are told that God was holding off on destroying the Amorites. Why? "for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." They obviously had enough revelation to know that what they were doing was wrong since God says they are committing "iniquity."

Further, when you read through Joshua, it becomes apparent that the nations that were to be destroyed already knew of what Yahweh had done in the Exodus. Of course, this was God's intent from the beginning--the nations were to know that there is but One God. The Exodus demonstrates this mightily. Yet it also shows the absolute hard heartedness of these nations. My point here is simple: they knew the truth and were held fully responsible for their rejection of Yahweh. Further, they were held fully liable as well because they were completely able to choose rightly.

But God demands that the women and CHILDREN be put to death. What if the children were unable? Does this mean they should be absolved of guilt? Tomorrow, I will seek to answer that question more fully.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Genocide in the Bible: How Should We Respond? (Part I)

I will be perfectly honest: I have never really had a problem with the accounts of the book of Judges. Some people find them morally horrific--what kind of God would authorize the Israelites to show no mercy (Deut. 7:2)? This just hasn't bugged me since I figure God knows what he is doing. But it bugs some people and in our increasingly secular world, more and more people are looking at the Bible to find faults with it. This seems to be a particularly popular thing to point out to show how God is a "moral monster." In the next few posts I would like to outline some reasons why I don't think Christians should have any problem with these passages whatsoever.

Reason #1: The Bible is About Worship and Warfare
It seems that everyone and their grandma is writing a narrative theology and is attempting to locate the "center" or the dominant theme of the Bible. There are so many good books on this topic and I think that all of them contribute to Biblical theology in different ways. I am not totally convinced that there is a dominant theme but, if I had to attempt to write a narrative theology, I would say that the dominant theme is this:

The Triune God of the Bible, because of he alone is King, deserves all glory, honor and worship and is willing to go to war to receive that worship.

A few things to say about this theme:
1) Right off the bat it offends us that the Triune God of the Bible would be willing to go to war for worship. Isn't that egotistical? Isn't that vicious? I think John Piper, in his numerous works, has defended the idea that God's concern for his own glory is actually to our benefit. So I don't want to rehash that here.

But I will say that God's concern for his worship is necessary. Since God is wise, perfect, good, righteous and loving, those same attributes are marks of God's kingdom as well. Any aberration against this kingdom is a sign of rebellion and is also a declaration of war. More importantly, it is a declaration of rejection and attack on the other members of the kingdom. As a result, it must be punished, not only to maintain order but also to uphold the values of the kingdom. Thus it is perfectly right for God to go to war for his worship. Jonathan Edwards, I think, would agree as well because the inner-workings of the Trinity also emphasize overflowing love that results in worship. To refuse to worship the Trinity is tantamount to rejecting life, love, freedom, joy, hope, and beauty. Again, anyone who rejects these things should rightly be punished.

2) God goes to war in different ways. If I were to write a book I would mention all of the ways God does, in fact go to war. He does not always go to war in violent ways. Often he goes to war by allowing other nations to wage war against another nation to bring judgment. Perhaps the most impressive act of warfare was when Jesus came to earth, healing those who were demonically oppressed and sick. This was nothing short of an invasion and attack on Satan. Further, when Jesus died, he opened the ability to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Jesus (Col. 1:13-14). Again, this is warfare, but a type of warfare that highlights God's grace and mercy.

3) While I hate to mention this at times because it attacks our modern feelings of comfort and inoffensiveness (but the Bible focuses so much on it I have to as well): you have to worship the king. It is built into the title and it is built into the very fact that God is supreme. God deserves it. We gotta get over it. To reject him is rebellion. Paul uses the title of Lord A LOT (just do a word study on it on Blueletterbible.com) and most of the time, I have noticed that it is at critical points of the argument. Christ is Lord; You are not Lord. God holds human kings responsible for worshiping him as well. Yes, he delegates authority to them, but it is never in doubt who the real king is.

4) The entire climax of the Bible is centered on worship. Just read Revelation. Worship is what the future is centered on. There is a restoration of all things, healing and seeing God which leads to worship. Revelation 4 and 5, in my opinion, set the stage for the whole book. We will see people fight for worship and demand worship who are not worthy of worship. Only the "One Seated on the Throne" and "The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David" the conquering "Lamb who was slain" is worthy of worship. Thus all of human history is moving toward worship. In fact, if I had time (and was writing a book), I would point out how worship and warfare permeate Genesis 1-3 as well, thus providing a clue and sort of inclusio to the entire Bible.

Anyway, tomorrow (or when I get more time), I will post the rest of the reasons why Christians should not be offended by the Genocide in the Bible.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus Book Review

Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus: Luke’s Account of God’s Unfolding Plan is the 27th book of the “New Studies in Biblical Theology Series” and in my opinion is one of the best.  Author Alan J. Thompson doesn’t get bogged down in ridiculous debates about tongues or methods of baptism. Rather, he steers a clear line to focus in on the heart of Acts—that it is a continuation of Luke’s Gospel and is a proclamation of the acts of the risen Lord Jesus.
Because of the nature of Thompson’s approach (and the approach of the entire series), he focuses a good bit on redemptive history. Thompson also argues for an already-not-yet interpretation of the book of Acts. While I doubt many classical dispensationalist will be thrilled with Thompson’s book, I think his argument for an already-not-yet hermeneutic applied to Acts is convincing.
Thompson’s book is divided into six main chapters (excluding the introduction and the conclusion) and each chapter provides an in-depth look at how Acts main theme (Jesus’s continuing acts) plays out. In chapter one, Thompson argues for an already-not- yet approach to the kingdom. In chapter two (my personal favorite), he argues that Acts takes place in the “last days” (which we are living in now) which was inaugurated at Christ’s resurrection. This brilliant chapter captures the heart of apostolic preaching and is particularly timely in light of Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel.

In chapter three, the author argues that God’s promises for Israel were already being fulfilled in Acts. Israel is being regathered together. In other words, God’s future saving purposes for Israel were already instituted at Christ’s death and resurrection. Here, while I appreciate Thompson’s clear pose, I have disagree with his overall argument. There was nothing in his exegesis that convinced me that Israel’s future promises have already begun to be fulfilled.  In this case, I cannot help but feel that Thompson places too much emphasis on the already nature of the kingdom, thereby over-spiritualizing the nature of the kingdom.

In chapter four, the author again focuses on how the Holy Spirit relates to the acts of Jesus. Here, I found Thompson’s argument, that the Spirit acts as a sign for the inaugurated new age and as one who shows that Jesus’s works will still be carried out, both brilliant and exciting. Again, this chapter was amongst my favorite.

Chapter five, however, was a bit disappointing. Thompson spends a good bit of time arguing that in Acts, there exists an indictment against the temple and its leaders. He argues that Jesus is now the temple and there was a certain shift away from the physical temple.  Here is my complaint: it is one thing to say Jesus is the new temple and so our worship is toward him. In other words, it doesn’t really matter now where we worship. I think that much is clear. However, it is another thing to say that there was an underlying hostility toward the temple. Did the leaders fail? Yes and they are rightly called to the floor for it as Thompson shows. But it is difficult for me to see how the temple is somehow pushed to the side as irrelevant when Paul himself still submits to some of the rituals (such as circumcision) and will even worship within the temple itself (Acts 21:27ff.). Thompson argues that the first few chapters center on the temple and show a movement beyond it. However, could it not also show that the temple was now just another location where people could meet to worship? By slightly shifting the question we remove any necessary argument that the temple is somehow condemned. In other words, I don’t think Thompson’s argument is a necessary reading of the text and seems more driven by his presuppositions. Nevertheless, it is a well written chapter and is very clear.

The final chapter, chapter six, deals with the issue of the law. Thompson argues that the law is no longer the direct authority but rather, it is submission to God and to his delegates, the apostles. This chapter is brilliant, if for no other reason than Thompson takes an incredibly difficult subject and brings and argues persuasively that the law is not so much replaced but that its focus is now on Christ. This was a great way to round out an incredibly well written book.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about the book was its lack of unnecessary technical discussions. I can’t always say that about the NSBT series but Thompson writes with clarity and ease. He makes difficult arguments easy to understand. As a testimony to this, one of my 10th grade students picked up the book and started reading a chapter about the inaugurated new age. Apart from a few technical theological words, she said she really understood what was being said. More impressive (and again a testimony to Thompson’s ability to write), she was excited about what Acts was saying and wanted me to explain more to her!
So in conclusion, I cannot recommend Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus enough. It was both engaging and extremely helpful. Thompson has some great charts in the book and there is an absolute waterfall of preaching material and excellent quotes in this book. As a youth pastor, it sparked my passion to see God’s full story proclaimed. Combined with The King Jesus Gospel, I think the book of Acts is getting the attention it finally deserves in formulating what the Gospel really is. Make sure to buy this book!

Thanks to IVP Academic for the free review copy of this book.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Dictionary of Christian Spirituality" is a Winner

Maybe it’s just me (though I seriously doubt it), but when I hear the word “spirituality” I get a weird picture of men with long beards, wearing robes, and writing strange, esoteric thoughts on God. In other words, when I hear the word spirituality, I don’t think practical, useful or full of truth. Maybe it’s because I’ve had bad experiences in the past with books on spirituality (where they felt completely disconnected from reality), but I am a skeptic when it comes to talking about spirituality. 

                So when Dictionary of Christian Spirituality was released, as you might imagine, I was a bit hesitant to embrace it. Even as I flipped through the pages and encountered names I was completely unfamiliar with (such as Jacob Boehme), I thought “Is this really worth my time?” 

                The answer: Yes! Yes! A million times over, yes! In fact, the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality might be the most valuable resource I have come across in years.

First, let me start off by saying that reviewing a dictionary is no easy task. Not every article is written with the same precision and skill as another. That said, based upon the many, many selections I have read, I can wholeheartedly recommend this resource.

                Second, it is important to note that the dictionary itself is divided into two segments. Part I consists of various articles that integrate, from a multidisciplinary perspective, spirituality into life. These essays are extremely helpful and really prepare the reader for the second part of the dictionary: the dictionary entries themselves.  I would suggest that Part I by itself would make the book a worthwhile read. I mean, you really have some outstanding essays in this book. My personal favorite? John H. Coe’s fantastic introduction to approaches to the study of Christian spirituality. Other excellent essays include a history of Christian spirituality from the early church onward. Further, the reader will come across several fantastic essays on experience, mysticism and spirituality’s relationship to creation. The scope of part I is simply breathtaking.

As far as the dictionary entries themselves, they are absolutely fantastic. As a youth pastor, I do not have a lot of time to dive into super in-depth articles. I need the articles to get to the point, provide a lot of information in a concise manner and then sum it up. The articles here do exactly that. Not only so, but I found myself finding at least one or two helpful quotes per article. In other words, this book is a preachers dream! There is enough thought provoking sermon material here to last for years.

                Perhaps, more than anything, this valuable resource will challenge you to go deeper in your own walk with Christ. I know I found myself in a more reflective, constant state of prayer as I was reading this. It also sparked in me a desire to simply slow down and savor Jesus Christ more. Any resource that forces you to do that is a winner.

Simply put, do yourself a favor and drop the money to get this resource. You will not regret it.

"The Deity of Christ" Book Review

The Deity of Christ is the third title in the Theology in Community series published by Crossway. This series is known for putting together a sort of who’s who list of biblical scholars who write concerning a particular topic (suffering and evil and the glory of God). This time a group of excellent scholars tackle the deity of Christ and the results, as expected, are fantastic.

The five chapters alone are devoted to exploring the deity of Christ in the Bible. While I wish the chapter on the Old Testament witness was just a tad longer, overall I felt that the Biblical material was covered exceedingly well.  One chapter is devoted to the development of the doctrine of the deity of Christ as well which I was happy to see. Again, I wish that chapter would have been a tad longer but Dr. Gerald Bray packs so much into it, I didn’t feel too shortchanged.
The strengths of this book are clearly the thoroughness in which it explores its topic. In fact, while the deity of Christ is such a vast topic, I would dare say they nearly exhaust the Biblical evidence for the deity of Christ. While they perhaps do not go into detail that say Fee in his massive Pauline Christology does, they nevertheless cover the topic so well that I am convinced little more is to be said.

Further, the amount of topics this book covers is simply astonishing. From Christ as presented in culture, to Christ and the cults to Christ and missions, the authors make sure they keep the scholarly balanced well with the practical. It is rare to find such balance in most books today, yet The Deity of Christ gave me so much good preaching material in the last two chapters alone that I have enough on my plate to preach for quite a while.

The only downside, which is rather common for this series, is that there is a good deal of overlap. I felt this particular with “Toward A Systematic Theology of the Deity of Christ” chapter, which felt like a rehashing of all of the Biblical material. While this isn’t to say that the editing is not good, it often felt as if I had to traverse the same trail again and again. I recognize it was necessary to a certain extent (and it certainly helped me grapple more effectively) so it is hard to complain too much.
This small complaint aside, I think every pastor needs to get his hands on this book. Not only does it offer a tremendous apologetic for the deity of Christ, but it also stirs the heart. I found myself worshipping often at the feet of our sovereign Lord Jesus. Do not miss this tremendous book!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Losses Hurt

I've been in youth ministry long enough now to see students graduate and go off to college or work. It never gets any easier when I see them turn their backs on God. During the entire time of ministering to them I noticed a general apathy when it came to Christ but they were always convinced they were saved because they walked the aisle once.

Today I engaged with one student who is now largely a Satanist. I taught the Gospel to this kid every week and prayed for him constantly. I now look back and think to myself, "What happened?" I could point fingers at particular things but at the end of the day blaming anyone (including myself) just doesn't work.

The losses in ministry hurt. I have seen so many awesome things but I have seen probably more defeat. God has blessed every ministry I have been in and I love my job. I've seen several of my students either enter ministry or prepare themselves to enter ministry of some sort. I've seen kids become awakened to new things in God's Word.

But then I've seen just horrible, horrible things like students leaving the faith and worshiping openly the adversary (I've seen two kids do this now). I've seen kids get baptized and then continue to live horrible lifestyles, rejecting any opportunity for discipleship. I lament the structures we build within the church that cause this sort of problem to even exist. I get frustrated with the repeated losses we face and the misunderstandings that exist with the Gospel.

How long O Lord?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Random Thoughts on Youth Ministry

I don't have near enough time to write like I wish I could. I mean, I have to write for seminary but currently, all my writing projects are boring so I have no interest in actually writing them. I am looking forward to graduation so I can finally return to my outlet for getting stress out--writing!

Anyway, I have a bit of time before my wife gets back from work and we have friends over so I think now would be a good time to write a quick post on youth ministry (that probably applies to all of the church but since I am a youth pastor, I will apply it just to that). Basically for the past...oh...three years or so, I have been attempting to grid out the type of students that pass through our youth ministry. This helps me figure out where they were, where they are, and where they should be spiritually. The problem is (and if you ever read any youth ministry books you will immediately see my point) EVERYONE has a method or a grid for student ministry. Each one proposes that you should use their method to advance students further.

I've never been that thrilled by methodology. It bores me and makes me feel like a crappy Christian and pastor because I don't do the things they say I should do. So  instead of being filled with new, innovative ideas, I normally just get depressed and lament that I stink at life or get frustrated because my budget isn't big enough to implement the idea.

I have largely abandoned methodologies. When I was called into ministry, the thing that burdened my heart the most was biblical illiteracy in the church. That is the thing that keeps me going every morning--I want that to change. I probably would have burnt out of ministry had it not been for God continually spurring me on by reminding me of that fact. So my entire ministry at every single church I have worked at has been "Don't let the kids leave with a superficial understanding of God's Word."

I suppose things have become slicker the longer I've been in ministry. I try not to info-dump on students anymore. I try to make doctrine cooler by having cool handouts and illustrations and, when we finally get this new youth house, I hope to implement videos and more. But really, all of this is in service to the simple fact that I want students to fall in love with God through the Bible.

All of this is to say that I got a new book I am suppose to be reviewing in like two weeks for Zondervan. The book is Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. It's pretty massive and with all of my other reading projects I am going to go out on a limb and say I will probably only complete part 1 on Christian Spirituality (rough 240 pages). Besides, I don't really want to read a bunch of random articles. The first part is the fascinating part anyway...but I digress.

Anyway, the first chapter in the book is laying the foundation for Christian spirituality. The author has this absolutely outstanding breakdown of the dynamics of Christian spirituality and Ill list them here.

Dynamics of Christian Spirituality

From a Christocentric point of view this would be...

Relational = Christ with us
Transformational = Christ in us
Vocational = Christ working through us

To put it a different way, the author says the cycle consists of...

Encounter = Relational = Christ with us
Change = Transformational = Christ in us
Action = Vocational = Christ working through us

These three things not steps but are constant ongoing processes.

So this leads me to my own basic grid (that I have been working on for years and finally, today, was able to make sense of by reading the article). Youth pastors will encounter four basic types of students in their ministries...

1) Those who are not believers
2) Those who are focused on encountering God
3) Those who are focused on change
4) Those who are focused on action

Those focused on the encounter are ones who are basically seeking relationship with God. Often times they are heavily swayed by emotion and are flighty. The services need to be jam up in order for them to encounter God. These are often the ones that are most easily broken...the ones that constantly go up to the front.

Those focused on the change are the ones that normally have been immature but are moving towards greater understanding of what being a Christian is all about. The danger for these students is that they might fall into legalism.

Those who are focused on action are the go-getters. They want to be involved in all things missions. They are driven by what the youth group is doing. They will volunteer for everything. The danger here is that the student associates what he is doing for relationship. Sometimes the most shallow students are the ones that do the most so you need to be careful to make sure these students get proper nutrition in God's Word. While not everything is cognitive, not everything is action-oriented.

Just some thoughts.

Friday, September 16, 2011

"Doing Philosophy as a Christian" Book Review

While philosophy used to be considered the handmaiden of theology, it has seemed that an ever increasing gap has formed between philosophy and theology over time. I am not completely sure why this is but I suspect it has to do with the defective view that the Bible is the only thing that can speak truthfully to the human condition. Regardless of where it began, Garrett J. DeWeese, professor of philosophy and philosophical theology at Talbot School of Theology, has written a book, Doing Philosophy as a Christian, that hopefully will begin to correct such faulty thinking.

DeWeese's thesis concerning theology is simple and yet profound. He states,

"Doing philosophy as a Christian means doing philosophy under the authority of the Lord Jesus and of the Bible, the Word of God. It means reasoning within the boundaries of religion. It means, in the end, doing philosophy in a way that aims intentionally at the ultimate goal of personal transformation into the image of Christ, and of extending a meaningful invitation to others to enter into that transformation--that is, extending the kingdom of God on earth." (67)

The rest of the book sets out to work under the parameters of Christ's lordship and the authority of the Word of God. After outlining in the first four chapters how philosophy and theology merge together seamlessly, DeWeese sets out to answer the "inescapable questions" in chapters 5-7. Those inescapable questions involve metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. After discussing each segment from a Christian point of view, he moves on to second-order questions such as "who and what am I "and "philosophy of science."

It should be noted from the outset that DeWeese is writing to those who are beginning in the field of philosophy. This means that while his discussions are not overly technical, they certainly are beyond a simple "introduction to philosophy." He does not explain everything for those who do not have a philosophical background. I suspect that some of his discussions in the area of personality and free-will in chapter 8 will be over the heads of some (it was certainly a stretch for me!). Nevertheless, I found the book very approachable overall.

The best thing about Doing Philosophy as a Christian is the fact that DeWeese really does draw the reader back to Christian thinking. One gets the feeling that for DeWeese, thinking rightly in philosophy concerning Christ really IS an act of worship. As a result, I found many of his discussions extremely relevant for myself as a youth pastor. I cannot think of a man in ministry who would not benefit from reading through this book as an example of what it really means to submit his thinking to Christ's authority. In particular, I found chapter 7 on ethics extremely beneficial and relevant.

In conclusion, I would urge anyone remotely interested in thinking well as Christian to check this book out. I think that while DeWeese does not necessarily break any new ground in this book, he advances the idea of the Christian Worldview further. In other words, DeWeese sees that there is no field where Christ does not proclaim his authority over. We should see the same thing and Doing Philosophy as a Christian will inevitably help you do that.

*Thanks to IVP Academic for providing me a free review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review*

Sunday, September 4, 2011

"The African Memory of Mark" Book Review

In a time of rapid globalization, scholars are quickly needing to push aside ethnocentric views of both history and theology and reinspect old prejudices in light of new findings. Thomas C. Oden, author of The African Memory of Mark, seeks to do just that in this new release from IVP Academic.

Oden sets out to construct a biography of John Mark using African sources from the early church as his guide. In this way, he hopes to advance both church history and biblical studies. The results are refreshing and courageous. Oden proposes some fairly radical things. He argues that John Mark and Peter may have been distantly related. Likewise, he proposes that the upper room where the disciples had their last feast was owned by John Mark's parents. Similarly, he proposes a radical re-reading of traditional history in regards to John Mark's own location during the events of Acts. Rather than seeing Mark as a somewhat quiet figure in the Bible, Oden suggests that Mark was active and courageous in his proclamation of the Gospel.

The reader will be struck by these radical readings of the history of Mark. The question is, are they persuasive?  This question is much more difficult to answer because they lie, says Oden, in how one views the original sources. Oden argues against Bauer and attempts to reinstate trust in the original sources--primarily the African sources. Often we, in our modern "enlightened" mindset, think we can reconstruct history better than the early church fathers themselves. Oden, as one might guess, opts for an honest reading of the fathers--one that takes them both truthfully and seriously. He allows for the possibility that the "legends" behind some of Mark's miracles (such as the conversion of his father) was not in fact legend but truth. Thus I would label Oden as optimistic and hopeful when it comes to early church history and the reliability of sources.

To answer the question above--is Oden persuasive?--the simple answer is: sort of. As one might guess, much of Oden's arguments are based off hypothesis and theoretical possibilities. How much weight one will assign to any conclusions Oden makes will be based upon whether they think Oden is theorizing too much. Personally, I found his arguments plausible. The author himself is tentative in proposing too much and acknowledges when he might be stretching things a bit. At the end of the day, I felt his book was more to win over my trust in the early church fathers than it was to really educate me on Mark (although I learned quite a bit in the process).

Perhaps the greatest thing that Oden's book does is give voice to the often marginalized African church. This is a book that should both excite and encourage young African theologians! They have a great legacy and much to contribute to theology. The job of the Western Church now is to have ears to hear.

*Thanks to IVP for providing a free review copy in exchange for an unbiased review*

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts" Book Review

It is hard to believe it has been ten years since the first edition of Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New testament and Contemporary Contexts. Now, ten years later, Mark D. Baker and Joel B. Green have released the second edition of there highly controversial work.

Of course, the controversy surrounding this book is well known among evangelicals--Baker and Green question the legitimacy of penal substitutionary atonement and argue for an eclectic reading of atonement theology. Authors such as Mark Driscoll have warned that such books are detrimental to the Christian faith and are not helpful. Others, such as Derek Tidball, have stated that it is difficult to imagine an Evangelical Christian denying penal substitutionary atonement. Entire books, such as Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, have been written in defense against Baker and Green's argument.

Which leads us to Recovering the Scandal of the Cross. The basic structure of the book is as follows: after an introduction outlining the problems of atonement theology today, Baker and Green look at the various ways atonement is presented in the Old and New Testament. Afterward they look at the saving significance of Jesus death. From there they assess church history, looking at the various dominant views of atonement and arguing that penal substitution is a relative late-comer on the scene. Finally, the last few chapters place their entire discussion in the practical realm of missions by analyzing atonement theology in Japanese culture, how the Christus Victor model might be appropriated practically and finally, discussing various views of the ongoing significance of Christ's death and how we might communicate that significance today.

Before diving into the problems in Recovering the Scandal of the Cross, I will state from the outset that I sympathize with Green and Baker's position. Penal substitution is not an easy topic to explain and even more difficult, at times, to comprehend. It would be much easier to do away with that view entirely. Moreover, I completely agree with the authors that the Bible presents a kaleidoscopic view of the atonement. In other words (and against authors such as Thomas Schreiner), I do not see penal substitutionary atonement as the dominant model of the atonement. In a day and age where theologians attempt to present a unified theme of the Bible, I appreciate the fact that Baker and Green state the obvious--the Bible is unified and yet there is tremendous diversity.

Also, Green and Baker do a tremendous job appropriating atonement theology today. They are writing with true missionary hearts and desire to see God magnified in the atonement. I also agree with them that we must find new and creative ways to discuss the atonement while being faithful to the biblical witness. In other words, I find much to agree with in Recovering the Scandal of the Cross.

But then that pesky issue of penal substitutionary atonement creeps in and I can't help but think, "You missed it, guys." Their exegesis of key verses is not compelling (though not unfounded) and far, far too brief. For instance, their argument that wrath is being worked out presently, according to Romans 1, is absolutely true (p. 80). Also true is the fact that our sin brings about divine consequences right now.

However, the authors extrapolate from this that the atonement is fundamentally about bringing us into right covenant relationship with God and not about God's wrath being satisfied. This seems like a classic "either/or" issue when it should rather be understood as a "both/and."

Further, their repeated insistence that Anselm and later followers were really the main developers of penal substitutionary atonement (although, to be fair, they say Anselm really just had the seeds of the idea in his writings) is a bit annoying. They do not respond to the massive chapter written by Jeffrey, Ovey and Sach discussion the historical precedence for penal substitution dating far, far before Anselm. One might not agree with Jeffrey, Ovey and Sach (as N.T. Wright clearly does not), but a respond is obviously in order (at least a footnote!).

So what then are we to make of Recovering the Scandal of the Cross? While I do not find Green and Baker ultimately persuasive, I did find them charitable and even-handed in their discussion of penal substitution, avoiding too emotionally charged language. Moreover, I found their chapters on how to appropriate atonement theology immensely helpful. In other words, Green and Baker exhibit the sort of Christian humility and charity all authors should strive for. This book is an important book on the atonement and has been demonized by too many. It is incredibly helpful and I believe, if balanced properly, will serve as an excellent resource for many pastors and missionaries. I highly recommend this book.

*Thanks to IVP Academic for providing me with a review copy in exchange for a fair review*

"A Gracious and Compassionate God: Mission, Salvation and Spirituality in the Book of Jonah" Book Review

Daniel C. Timmer's book A Gracious and Compassionate God: Mission, Salvation and Spirituality in the Book of Jonah is the 26th volume in the NSBT series by Intervarsity Press. This series seeks to integrate a theme in biblical studies and relate it to the wider field of biblical theology.

So how does Daniel C. Timmer's book hold up to this task?

Unfortunately, not as well as one might hope.

Timmer sets out to explore the themes of mission, salvation and spirituality in the book of Jonah and then relate it to the rest of the Bible. However, the book of Jonah seems simply to exist as a launching pad to get to other books of the Bible more than a sustainable theology within the book of Jonah itself. In other words, the author seems to rush quickly through his exegesis of Jonah so he can get to passages in Isaiah, Acts and others. Frustratingly, the author never seems to relate how Jonah fits into the Bible as a whole.

In other words, A Gracious and Compassionate God feels more like a book on Jonah and then a book on missions and salvation (the theme of spirituality is hardly addressed at all it would seem) rather than a book that unifies those two themes well.

However, I am not sure that Timmer is to fault on this. The idea of starting in the book of Jonah and working out is no easy to task and one, I am not sure, is entirely beneficial. Is it not a bit myopic to attempt to extrapolate an entire theology from a book that is both narrative and only four chapters long?

This is NOT to say that the book is a failure. There are some genuinely good insights (particularly in chapter one) about the nations and missions! The book also acts as a helpful (albeit brief) commentary on Jonah from a conservative standpoint. The book is extremely well documented as well. So for anyone seeking to further their understanding of Jonah and missions, this book is indeed helpful. For someone seeking to see how Jonah relates to the larger themes presented and see a robust theology of missions, salvation and spirituality, look elsewhere.

In conclusion, while the book is good it does not seem to succeed in its larger purpose. It also does not seem to be up to the usual quality that is present in the other titles in the NSBT. That said, I would recommend the book because there are some good things here. I feel, however, it does not accomplish what is usually expected. 

*Thanks to IVP Academic for providing me a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review*