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.