Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review of "The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek: Grammar, Syntax and Diagramming."

The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek: Grammar, Syntax, and Diagramming by Douglas Huffman is an extremely helpful little book for second-year Greek students. Though it is not intended to replace grammars such as Wallace, it does serve as a helpful refresher for pastors on the go, teachers who are super busy and seminarians who just want to find a basic grammatical principle quick.

In this book you will find charts, basic grammatical discussions, and even an entire section on how to diagram (complete with an example of 1 Peter 1:3-9)! It is amazing how much is packed into a book of only 106 pages!

I really wish I had had this helpful tool when I was taking Greek. It is realistic (it understands pastors do not have a ton of time) yet it also encourages pastors to not quit. Any book that helps make Greek accessible to busy students/pastors everywhere. I wholeheartedly recommend this handy book!

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Beauty of God's Absolute Sovereignty (Or More Reasons To Not Be an Open Theist)

As I was working through different thinking experiments concerning God's sovereignty (as I recommend anyone studying theology should do), I realized the absolute bankrupt theology of Open Theism. God's absolute sovereignty in salvation and in this earth has been constantly reaffirmed. However some people, I think, are worried about me. Apparently they haven't read what I wrote carefully.

So let me say again, CLEARLY, that I am a Calvinist. I affirm ABSOLUTE ORTHODOXY CONCERNING GOD, THE BIBLE ETC. Me and Johnny Calvin could hang out and not have any difference in our theology. Just because I was interested in a particular theology and entertained the idea does not mean I actually taught or believed it. I leaned toward it (meaning that I saw their view and acknowledged its strengths). However, at no point did I say "Ok, I am an open theist." If anything I toyed with a more neutral "traditional baptist" position which was more like 3 point Calvinism. However, I realized the ultimate failure of this position to square with Scripture too. So for those reading my blog, let me say clearly, I am REFORMED in my theology. I WAS RESEARCHING AND TOYING WITH THESE OTHER POSITIONS BUT NEVER ACCEPTED THEM.
Hopefully, that helps. If someone is still tweaked, then read this story and then come talk to me.

One of the problems with open theism is how we approach tragedy. Last week I lost a student in a motorcycle wreck. It was sudden, unexpected and heartbreaking. Let's look at how this breaks down.

Open Theism would say that God did not know (although could probably predict to a certain extent) the death of my student. It would say that God is heartbroken and but could not have prevented it due to his desire for mankind to have absolute freedom. Some OT would say that Satan perhaps was behind his death but God allowed it because he has given Satan freedom as well.
While I understand that open theism attempts to get God off the hook, I just don't see how it actually does that. God still limits his sovereignty to some extent. And at the end of the day, God is still to "blame." That is just the truth.

I think the more biblical idea is to own that God does predestine stuff and ordain stuff (even tragedy) for his glory. It just is like that. The Bible provides ample witness to that. So it is our duty, not to get God off the hook, but to humble ourselves under His almighty hand.

The family who lost their son found comfort in the fact that God not only knew, but permitted this tragedy. They found it beautiful that God could use something horrible to elevate His glory. Several people were saved through this tragedy. Perhaps more awesome was that the family said, "We know God is good and in control."

You see, the god of open theism is in control...but in a radically different way. He is reactive at times and proactive at other times. He will is thwarted and he doesn't always get what he wants. In other words, God may have wanted to prevent the accident, but simply was unable to or (because he loves human autonomy) UNABLE to prevent it from happening.

Now technically, this does maintain God's sovereignty because OT states that God sovereignly allows himself to be limited.

But no matter which way you slice it, God is still responsible and limited.

That isn't God. Sorry.

God is both responsible and limitless. He ordains things for his good pleasure. And while we may not understand, we don't need to. Why? Because God is God. Who are we that God should be held responsible to us?

In other words, when we attempt to get God off the hook, we elevate ourselves. God doesn't need that though.

In tragedy, we don't need to elevated. We need God to be elevated.

And that is, again, why I affirm Calvinism and orthodoxy.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Chaos, Open Theism, Calvinism and a Big Piece of Humble Pie

There aren't many times when I recant what I previously wrote. I normally stick by stuff I have said and continue to do so. However, I wrote a piece a few months ago on why I wasn't a Calvinist. Though I denied open theism, I told you that I found the idea attractive but instead clung to a largely Arminian perspective on soteriology. In fact, I signed what was called the "Traditional Baptist" document, affirming man's freedom in salvation.

For those of you who are Calvinist who I dialogued with (more harshly and brashly than you deserved I might add), allow me to offer a humble recantation of my stance and explain why.

I had a dialogue with a friend about a month ago in Chili's about open theism. I told him that I essentially didn't want to think about the issue because it seemed attractive but I knew it was really, really wrong. However, I after the conversation I realized that this wasn't intellectually honest. So, I went back and started reading through virtually every single article I could find on open theism. What had (at one time) particularly impressed concept of open theism with a theory called "chaos theory."

Greg Boyd has long championed this idea that the chaos theory shows that we live in an indeterminate universe. In the past, I rested on Boyd's opinion and interpretation of this and thought, "Even science backs up open theism!"


So false.

So so so false.

I decided to investigate the chaos theory for myself this time (in order to effectively brush off any Calvinists). So I started reading the book Who's in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain by leading neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga. In the book he argues that our lives are essentially determined by our brains. However, he argues that things are indeterminate (as far as being able to be measured) because of the chaos theory.

Chaos Theory

Newton assumed that if we had completely accurate measurements of everything we could determine the course of the world. That is largely true according to most scientists today. However, the problem comes in with chaos theory. Chaos theory says that when three more bodies (that could be planets, people, cities etc.) come into contact, we can not completely compute (or measure) accurately enough anything (on the biological and molecular level) to know what will happen. Small variables, over time and space, can create what seems to be random occurrences in our lives.

But here is the catch: what chaos theory says is that things are indeterminate because we currently don't have the ability to measure those things and likely never will accurately enough. This statement essentially undermines what open theists have been saying and let me explain why.

1) Open theists say that God possesses exhaustive divine knowledge of all present things.

2) However, if God possesses exhaustive divine knowledge of all present things, that means he is not hindered by scientists' current inability to measure accurately down to extremely small decimal places.

3) What this means is that God could, by nature of just pure mathematical ability not just "predict" the future but literally know every single action based upon his ability to a) compute and b) apply that knowledge to the future.

What I am saying is that for God, if he even possesses just exhaustive knowledge of the present, can know the future. But then that means God would possess foreknowledge. Back to that in a bit...

Why Our Brains Betray Us (and it is a good thing)

Most scientists now assume we live in a deterministic world. While the theory of evolution plays a large part in this, current research on the brain also leads them to conclude this as well. I will simply cite one example.

Recent experiments have shown that our brain begins to cue up energy for us to move our hand a few milliseconds before we are even conscious of the thought, "I am going to move my hand." Some experiments have shown that this process happens as early as ten seconds before we become conscious of our desire to perform an action. That is staggeringly cool!
But it also, in my mind, deals a death blow to open theism. If God possesses exhaustive knowledge of the present, that means that even on the smallest molecular levels, God could accurately know what we could and would do as early as ten seconds before we actually do it. That might not seem like much to us but to a God who is infinitely resourceful that is a game changer. Further, it also means that regardless of what we want to say, God possesses divine foreknowledge to some extent. I find this to be absolutely awesome! Our brains literally betray us and simply opens up the possibility that God does possess foreknowledge.

Speech Acts and Kevin J. Vanhoozer

I was incredibly blessed to have some personal dialogue with Kevin J. Vanhoozer through email. While what he said to me was personal (and encouraging), he dialogued with me about open theism and why he rejects it. I bought his book Remythologizing Theology and so far, it is beginning to shape the way I view some of those tough passages that we typically have called anthropomorphisms. The philosophy behind speech acts argues that words do more than simply convey information--they can actually illicit a change within someone. If I hold that God's Word is inerrant (which I do) and that God wanted was written said for a reason, then this leads to some interesting possibilities about those notoriously t
ricky passages about God changing his mind.

I can either take them hyper-literally or I can under them to be speech acts that were designed to illicit a response within me. If I take them to be speech acts that Moses wrote (by God's divine power) then that means they are meant to convey to me that God is truly relational, though he possesses exhaustive definite knowledge. While my literalness in hermeneutics wants to come up here, I think that speech acts have made these verses more understandable actually.

But Why Calvinism?

At this point, I haven't said anything that particularly lends itself to Calvinism. I have simply been arguing for classical theism. However, let's put together the entire scope of what I have been saying...

1) God, as creator, made the rules of what is now largely considered a determined universe by scientists. Even areas where we say something is indetermined simply means that we don't possess the tools to accurately measure variables. However, God does. Nothing then is indeterminate to God. Since God, before creation, made the rules of physics that our world would operate by, that means that God, by virtue of being God, not only knows the future but meticulously designed how it would come about through physics.

2) God knows what our brains are going to do before we even are conscious of it. If anything, this simply nullifies the idea of free will.

3) God's on its most basic reading backs up everything that science is already discovering.

4) Passages that seem to offer contingencies (or choices) can simply be understood as speech acts to illicit response from us.

Anyway, I realize that half of my readers are going to see this and think, "I am disappointed in Daniel from turning away from his previous belief," while the other half is going to think, "Good for you, Daniel."

While, I recognize this was not the most usual path to take to come to this point in my theology, it is a path that nevertheless has astounded me and has left me in total awe of God. Never before have I felt so excited in my walk with God (even the first time I thought Calvinism was true!). Being older and wiser I realize I was wrong about what I said earlier. I think even the 3 point Calvinism I had leaned toward before wasn't even that strong.

So...there is a big piece of humble pie for me to eat!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Diamond of Salvation

I am currently reading (and almost finished with) Alister McGrath's Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. I am reading about modern developments (since the 1700's) in theology as they relate to salvation. McGrath mentions that salvation has been conceived of many different ways in theological thought since 1700 and lists them. Here is his list:

  • Deification
  • Righteousness before God
  • Union with Christ
  • Moral perfection
  • Consciousness of God
  • Genuine Humanity
  • Political Liberation

What is fascinating about this list is that there is a great deal of confusion about salvation, the effects of salvation, and the future of salvation. Essentially, most of the items on this list either make salvation consist of the effects of salvation or make salvation based upon the future of salvation.

For example, moral perfection is something we look forward to eschatologically but not in the present. Consciousness of God is an excellent thing we possess when we are saved and, in my opinion, is one of the most prominent changes that takes place when someone is saved. However, being MORE conscious (or even predominately conscious of God) does not constitute salvation. Rather, it is an effect. Political liberation, while something we should be striving for now (since as believers we are called to work for the oppressed and needy) and is something we will be looking forward to in the future (the eschatological dimension), it absolutely does not constitute salvation.

It is so easy to neglect the beautiful simplicity of what salvation means. Salvation means we are rescued from death, sin and the wrath of God. This isn't popular to talk about among some people. However, I treasure the beauty of salvation and that my salvation is not dependent upon my external change or my inward shift toward God. If so, I would be in serious trouble. But praise be to God who set forth His Son to rescue someone like me.

Thank you Jesus!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Preaching the Gospel

So the new buzzword among Evangelicals lately is "gospel." I have no fewer than 10 books written in the past year with the title "gospel" in the title. Everything is "gospel-driven" and we hear a lot about "preaching the gospel." While I think that a lot of the stuff is just trying to capitalize off of the newest (old?) buzzword, I like a great deal of what has come out lately and have tried to apply a lot of it to my own ministry.

In particular, I have been attempting for the past few years to integrate preaching the gospel into my sermons in a non-forced way (altar call-esque) way. I have experimented with different ways of integrating the gospel into my sermon but I finally found out a fairly effective method.
I want to especially focus on the stage of application in preaching. Truthfully, this is where a lot of preachers struggle. We can expound the text and its nuances like champs but when it comes to connecting it to life, we falter. I know that I personally have wrestled with this issue for a long time. However, what I am sharing here has helped me a lot.

Defining the Gospel

There is a general consensus among most recent literature on the gospel that there are four main elements to it. Though the words change, the four main elements are: creation, the Fall, redemption, and restoration.

Creation reminds us that God created man in his image for his glory as vice-regents to rule his world.

The Fall reminds us that because of Adam's sin we are born with a sin-nature that rebels against God's good purposes in our lives and orients us towards destruction. We are at animosity between God, the land and each other and deserve punishment because of this.

Redemption reminds us that Jesus Christ died on the cross because of our sin. He rose from the dead as the inaugurated king and secured our redemption.

Restoration reminds us that one day God will bring about complete and total restoration and we will live in the New Heavens and New Earth with God and others forever. Things will be perfected.

I have chosen for simplicity sake (and as a helpful mnemonic device) four c-words to sum up the Gospel: creation, crash, cross and consummation (but truthfully, the vocabulary matters little).

Integrating the Gospel in Preaching

Essentially every sermon needs to cover all four of these areas. This might sound limiting but actually, the scope and meaning in each of these words is vast--so vast you could explore them for eternity and not exhaust the ramifications of each element. In theory (and in truth), you should have endless applications at your disposal.

Each area (creation, crash, cross, consummation) asks a particular question and should help you think about your text in different ways.

Creation asks, "What was God's original intention for us?" This question orients us to our past and what could have and should have (and one day will be) our hope.

Crash asks, "What has sin does to God's original intention?" This builds a bridge with your congregation because, truthfully, this is where you are. You are battling your sin nature and you are sinful. So this question orients us to our present.

Cross asks, "What has Christ's death accomplished to reverse the crash?" This question actually also is our present. This is where we can begin glorying in the truly good news.

I want to pause here and reflect how absolutely vast this question is. As a preacher you need to be aware of the many theories of the atonement and appropriate various ones in your preaching. For instance, the Christus Victor model of redemption is an absolutely beautiful picture of how Christ has broken Satan's power over us. Penal substitution is similarly vital in letting people know their sin is truly reprehensible to God. Christus exemplar is a good model as well (provided you don't go into legalism) to remind people how they ought to respond in light of God's redemption for them.

asks "How does God want the story to end?" The ending is healing, judgment of the wicked, and perfection. This is a future oriented question that helps us lift our eyes off of the present and see things in light of eternity.

So How Do I Preach This?

I have found it helpful to a) work through my text and then b) write out all four stages of the gospel to help me think through the ramifications of what is written. For instance, this Wednesday I am preaching on "Who I am not" in our series on I-Denitity. I am using a curriculum that I find a bit too moralistic for my taste but they give me a good structure from which to preach.

However, I revamped a bit of the sermon. The three points are:
1) The Gospel Frees Us from Focusing on Other's Opinion [Gal. 1:10]
2) The Gospel Frees Us from Focusing on Ourselves [James 4:1-2]
3) The Gospel Frees Us from Focusing on Appearances [1 Sam. 16:7].

Notice a few things. First, this a topic driven sermon and not a full-blown expository sermon. While originally I used to be against this type of sermon and used to think "exegete the hound out of one text" I have shifted my thinking a bit after working with youth. I am still all about exegeting the text but I think it is important to adopt a "systematic theology" approach to preaching too. In other words, it is useful to show people the scope of what God's Word says. Also, it was a technique used by the early church (tying multiple texts together) so I don't think it is inherently wrong.

The key to doing it well though, is tying it all back to the Gospel. For instance, I have a worksheet that I have gone through in preparation for this sermon. It looks like this:

The Gospel Frees Us from Focusing on Other’s Opinions (Galatians 1:10)
Creation—God created us in his image so…
Crash—You (and others) are sinful so…
Cross—Christ’s death and resurrection at the Cross has made you right with God so…
Consummation—You will one day live with God in the New Heavens and New Earth so…

The Gospel Frees Us from Focusing on Ourselves (James 4:1-2)
Creation—God created us in his image so…
Crash—You (and others) are sinful so…
Cross—Christ’s death and resurrection at the Cross has made you right with God so…
Consummation—You will one day live with God in the New Heavens and New Earth so…

The Gospel Frees Us from Focusing on Appearances (1 Sam. 16:7)
Creation—God created us in his image so…
Crash—You (and others) are sinful so…
Cross—Christ’s death and resurrection at the Cross has made you right with God so…
Consummation—You will one day live with God in the New Heavens and New Earth so…

Working my way through each element of this worksheet keeps my thoughts directed on what is truly important and allows me to direct the text back to Christ. It helps give me a clear direction in application and it helps me tie it together well.

Hopefully this helps.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Is Preaching Identity Forming A Man-Centered Theology?

I will be teaching for the next three weeks on identity at ROCK127. The past few weeks have provided a wonderful time for me to focus on who I am in God. I have absolutely delighted in hearing God's loving voice to me say, "You are my beloved."

However, I have also wrestled with some theological hang-ups. Some would say that preaching on your identity in Christ is inherently man-centered. Instead, we should focus on who Christ is and from there we will realize our place.

I used to be a huge proponent of this line of thinking. In fact, probably a year or two ago I never would have preached a sermon series like this. But I have come to a realization that is so vital and I think is key to Paul's thinking:

You cannot separate who God says you are and who God is.

When you look at what your identity is in the Bible it is always firmly rooted in who God is. Let me give you a few biblical examples of what I am talking about.

In John 1:12 we are told that we are God's child. Now we certainly can delight in the fact that we are children. But the larger picture is that God is gracious enough to adopt those who are sinners (see John 1:10-11). This birth comes from God. So to preach your identity in Christ is really to preach the attribute of God--he is a loving Father.

Again, take a look at Romans 8:1. When I preach to my youth "You are not condemned" I am not simply preaching a reality that is theirs to claim, but I am preaching an attribute of God--he does not condemn those he has justified. Further, by simple logic, I am inferring that God is a judge. He would be just to condemn us for our sin. The miraculous and beautiful thing is that we are not judged.

You cannot separate who God says you are and who God is.

They are two sides of the same coin. This is not an either/or. This is a both/and.

I realize that in today's churches we see a constant flow of unbiblical, unsound preaching that simply seeks to tickle the ears of men. However, I have noticed a trend (at least in my own heart) to elevate God's majesty and transcendence and forget God's personal affection for us. The danger in this is that we, unconsciously, begin sounding like Neo-Orthodox theologians--highlighting God's transcendence at the expense of his immanence. However, let us not forget:

You cannot separate who God says you are and who God is.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

"Eternal Generation of the Son" Book Review

There aren't many times that as I am reading a book I think to myself, "You know, this book might be one of the best books I've read this year." I certainly didn't think that as I was reading The Eternal Generation of the Son by Kevin Giles. In fact, I thought to myself as I picked up the book, "Really? We need an entire book defending this?"

Well, as it turns out, it IS one of the best books I've read this year and I am more convinced than ever that a full-scale treatment of the eternal generation of the Son was and is necessary. Thankfully, Kevin Giles is such an extremely clear, thorough, efficient and engaging author that reading a book that is fairly technical in subject matter, was enjoyable.

Without going into too much detail, most major Evangelical theologians deny the eternal generation of the Son. Authors such as Grudem, Driscoll and others blatantly reject the doctrine as old-fashioned and something that causes more confusion that benefit. However, as Giles demonstrates so well, the eternal generation of the Son prevents theologians from falling into sloppy thinking concerning the Trinity and helps keep our theology clear.

Biblical warrant for the doctrine aside, Giles does a profoundly amazing job of tracing the historical development behind the doctrine. By the time I was done, I was completely convinced that this was a doctrine that Evangelicals had to adopt and quickly. There are few books that so thoroughly convince me on a topic and yet Giles has done it.

This is a book pastors and professors need to read. Although it is, admittedly, a somewhat nuanced and technical read, it is extremely beneficial and will certainly help clarify your own thinking on the Trinity. Pick it up today!

*Thanks to IVP Academic for providing me with a free review copy of this work in exchanged for an unbiased book review.*

Deuteronomy by Edward J. Woods Review

The Pros: Excellent exegesis and Woods does a great job as showing the overarching structure of the book of Deuteronomy. He doesn't get boiled down into the minutia of the text while at the same time the reader never feels short changed. He brings into account a decent amount of Hebrew (always transliterated) and yet never is overly technical. I was also surprised by how thorough his introduction to the book of Deuteronomy was. He obviously adopts a very conservative stance concerning the authorship and dating of the book which was also a plus. The structure of the commentary in general is very lucid, moving from context to the commentary to the meaning. The application is solid (though not spectacular) throughout.

The Cons: The commentary is painfully dry. As I mentioned above, the application is nothing to write home about. In fact, it really plays a secondary role to the commentary itself. That is fine, but pastors should be forewarned before thinking they will get an application section like the NIVAC series provides.

Summary: Woods does a great service to pastors by bringing a very accessible (albeit dry) commentary on Deuteronomy. You can find this commentary pretty cheap online and, in my opinion, it is worth every penny you spend on it. Pick it up.

*According to FTC regulation, I was provided a copy of this book for free in exchange for a fair review from IVP Academic*

"Matthew" by Craig Keener Review

Craig Keener offers up a good, practical, non-technical commentary on Matthew in volume one of the IVP New Testament Commentary Series. The commentary itself is a modest 402 pages which means that Keener doesn't cover as much as he could, or as much as the reader would like.

Keener is known for his extensive knowledge of primary sources and he again draws liberally from them in formulating some of his interpretations. This is obviously good for more technical commentaries but for a practical commentary like this, Keener gives more details than necessary and seems like he goes fairly light on exegesis at times. That said, the commentary is extremely practical and insightful.

If you need a good, pastoral, non-technical commentary that still delivers quite a punch, go ahead, do yourself a favor, and pick up Matthew by Craig Keener (part of the IVP series...not his massive Socio-Rhetorical commentary from Eerdmans).

*According to FTC regulations, I would like to thank IVP for providing me with a free review copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review*

Monday, September 3, 2012

"The Gospel According to Isaiah 53" Book Review

Isaiah 53 (or more technically Isaiah 52:13-53:12) has long been held up by Christians as the clearest picture of the suffering and penal atonement of Jesus Christ. However, this interpretation of Isaiah 53 has long been rejected by Jewish scholars and, more recently, modern-critical scholarship. In defense of the traditional Christian view of Isaiah 53, Kregel Academic has published a collection of essays from prominent Evangelical scholars and has entitled this collection The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology. While not quite flawless, The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 is the best recent articulation of what Christians believe concerning Isaiah 53.

The introduction by Mitch Glaser orients the reader about the recent discussion of Isaiah 53. Glaser makes plain that this book, "...was written to help readers to utilize the truths of this magnificent chapter in bringing the Good News to those who do not yet know Jesus. It is designed to enable pastors and lay leaders to deepen their understanding of Isaiah 53 and to better equip the saints for ministry among the Jewish people." [21]. This chapter is helpful in getting the reader up-to-date on the current discussion.

Richard Averbeck writes chapter one which deals with "Christian Interpretation of Isaiah 53". Averbeck notes the shift from the other "Servant Songs": in Isaiah 53, the prophet, who previously identified himself as the servant in 49:1-13 and 50:4-11, now includes himself with the people (the "we, us, our"). Averbeck argues that the prophet and the people are recipients of Suffering Servant's ministry and offering.

In chapter two, Michael L. Brown deals with "Jewish Interpretations of Isaiah 53". After outlining many Jewish interpreters who clearly did see the Messiah as a sufferer, he notes that there is a clear shift away from such an interpretation later, in light of Christian testimony. He notes that the common interpretation among the Jewish people now is that the Suffering Servant is Israel. Israel suffered through exile and mistreatment and Isaiah 53 deals specifically with that. However, as Brown clearly notes, "...Israel's sufferings in exile did not bring healing to the nations, while, conversely, it is impossible to read the text fairly while eliminating the concept of effectual, vicarious suffering." [77]. Thus, despite those who seek to reinterpret the text, Brown sees that the traditional Christian reading is the most fair to the actual meaning of Isaiah 53.

Chapter three, authored by Walter C. Kaiser Jr., seeks to identify the "The Identity and Mission of 'Servant of the Lord'". Kaiser argues that the clearest identification of the Servant is found in Isaiah 53 and that the success of the mission of the Servant was never in doubt--Yeshua would succeed in rescuing the lost of Israel AND subsequently, bring rescue the nations from their transgressions.

Michael J. Wilkins tackles "Isaiah 53 and The Message of Salvation in the Gospels" in chapter four. Wilkins helpfully traces various echoes and outright quotations of Isaiah 53 in the Gospels. He argues (against critical scholarship) that Jesus was self-aware of his mission and that the early church simply taught what Jesus himself knew. In this way, the early church did not foist Jesus' death upon Isaiah 53 but rather, Jesus himself handed such a teaching down to the disciples.

In chapter five, Darrell Bock deals specifically with Isaiah 53's use in Acts 8. Bock's summary is worth quoting: "Our text is significant because it highlights a point Luke loves to make about Jesus. Not only is Jesus a figure described and predicted centuries in advance, but even the seeming incongruity of his death is
a part of of that description. Juxtaposing Jesus' humiliation in an unjust crucifixion with God's vindication of Jesus in resurrection shows where God's vote lies in disputes about who Jesus is." [143]. Thus Bock argues that Isaiah 53 is Gospel driven and evangelistically centered, as can be seen in Acts 8.

"Isaiah 53 in the Letters of Peter, Paul, Hebrews and John" is the topic of chapter six and is taken up by scholar Craig A. Evans. Evans chapter is particularly helpful because he includes in his chapter an entire listing of echoes and outright quotations of Isaiah 53 in all of the epistles and John's Gospel. Evans concludes, after a lengthy discussion of the usage of Isaiah 53 in letters outside of the Gospels, "The suffering and death of Jesus do not prove that he was not the Messiah; they in fact prove it, for they fulfill the Scriptures, including the Scripture that spoke of the Suffering Servant Messiah." [170]. He believes that Isaiah 53 "makes a significant contribution to the theologies of Peter, Paul, Hebrews and John." Further, it "is especially intriguing [that] the famous Suffering Servant hymn apparently lay at the heart of an evangelism and apologetic primarily intended for the synagogue." [170]

Chapter seven, written by David L. Allen, focuses on "Substitutionary Atonement and Cultic terminology in Isaiah 53." Allen goes back to Leviticus to show how the NT authors are at pains to show how the old Levitical system was inadequate to deal with sins. However, by using Isaiah 53, the NT displays that a greater sacrifice has arrived.

Robert B. Chisholm Jr., handles "Forgiveness and Salvation in Isaiah 53" in chapter eight. He opens by stating to the reader that, "Isaiah's fourth so-called Servant Song is a rags-to-riches-story." [191] Chisholm outlines what exactly this means and concludes four things. First, those who benefit from the Servant's suffering are those who wittnessed the Servant's suffering--the nations and Israel. Second, the illness and pain listed in Isaiah 53 are the consequences of sin. Third, the reason for the consequences was a breach of covenant. Fourth, the Servant accomplishes a) release from exile and restoration to the Promised Land b) opens up the possibility of covenant renewal and c) bears the sins of the nation and so allows the nations to enter into a covenant with God.

The book then turns its attention from biblical theology to practical theology. In chapter nine, John S. Feinberg deals with "Postmodern Themes from Isaiah 53." Feinberg finds many themes that will resound with today's postmodern culture--a love for story, the possibility for open dialogue between Jews and Christians, a Creator who cares about genuine relationship. These themes can all be found in Isaiah 53, argues Feinberg, before drawing his very thoughtful chapter to a close.

Chapter ten, penned by Mitch Glaser, approaches how to use Isaiah 53 in Jewish Evangelism. This immensely practical chapter serves, not only as a primer for Jewish evangelism, but as a primer for evangelism in general. Essentially, Glaser boils down the entire discussion of the exegesis of Isaiah 53 into talking points. His essential point is clear--Isaiah 53 MUST be used in Jewish evangelism.

Finally, chapter eleven, written by Donald R. Sunukjian, applies Isaiah 53 to the realm of preaching. His chapter essentially asks, "How are you going to preach Isaiah 53?" He then provides another exegesis of Isaiah 53 as well as a structural breakdown of the passage and some practical tips on how to present the material. He also adds to appendices to the book which are two different sermons he personally preached on Isaiah 53.

Darrell Bock offers a summary of the book and reminds the reader, again, of the important of Isaiah 53.

The question remains: is The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 worth the hefty-almost-$20-pricetag. A few things would lead me to shy away from this book. First, as with almost any compilation of essays, you get some good ones and you get some bad ones. Most of the biblical theology chapters are good. Feinberg's chapter was pretty weak, however. Consider that you are paying about $2 per chapter and then consider if each essay is worth that. I will say, however, that Robert Chisholm's chapter was great--not just good. That, to me, might influence the purchase of this work.

Second, despite what the original purpose of the book states (to train pastors and informed laypersons), this book is technical. Seriously technical. I am talking that you need to know Greek and Hebrew (seldom is it transliterated) and the grammar of both languages to really appreciate this work. Having taken both languages, it was still tough to keep up. The entire time I thought to myself, "I can't think of too many churches where this would be on the docket for reading." This is not bedside reading. This is intense, ground-and-pound exegesis. It is good--just tough to wade through.

Third, because of the nature of the book (composed of essays), you get repetition. Further, since you are dealing with such a narrow slice of Scripture, you get A LOT of repetition. I think the point was made at least four times that Israel is NOT the Suffering Servant. While that is a helpful reminder, each chapter felt like it was rehashing the same basic thing after awhile. I almost wanted to scream when I saw that there would be yet another exegesis of the text in chapter eleven (on preaching Isaiah 53). Don't get me wrong, the essays are good, but you get essentially seven to eight expositions of the same text. I will say this to every pastor and teacher--if you can't exegete and interpret Isaiah 53 by the time you finish The Gospel According to Isaiah 53, you need to find a new profession.

So is it a buy, check-out, or pass? It is definitely not a pass. There are a handful of essays in here that are worth reading (such as almost everything in the biblical theology section). For pastors on a budget, the price of the book is steep for what you get so I think that that makes it a check-out. If you are insistent on buying, I would recommend waiting till you find a good used copy. Overall, though, it is a solid work and I think it is one that you will go back to again and again for help in exegeting the text.

*Following FTC guidlines, I received this copy from Kregel Academics in exchange for a fair, unbiased review.*

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Wait...This Conversation Isn't Over?: A Review of Changing Signs of Truth by Crystal L. Downing

Ever have one of those awkward phone conversations where you think everything that needs to be said has been said. You then try to get off the phone, only to have the person start talking again...about the same thing...

My first thought? "Oh no."

I feel the same way about Crystal L. Downing's book Changing Signs of Truth: A Christian Introduction to the Semiotics of Communication. This is a book that strikes me as 7 years too late to the scene. It would have fit in perfectly with the tremendous amount of Emergent (capital E) literature that was being written during that time. Instead, it is half-way to 2013 and we get a book that reminds us, yet again, that we need to rethink the way we communicate the truths of the Bible.

Let's run through the obligatory checklist of cliched concepts and ideas presented in this book:

  • A disregard of inerrancy? Check.
  • A reminder that we are indebted to the past while also needing to think anew for the future? Check.
  • A call to cultivate Spirit-led community? Check.
  • A reminder that political power is overrated and culture change comes from "the margins"? Check.
  • A call to delight in the pluralism found within Christianity? Check.
  • A declaration that terms like "conservative" and "liberal" are unhelpful? Check.
I could go on but...honestly, if you in any way were connected with the Emergent church movement or read any of the literature during that time, you've read this all before. Sure, it is dressed up with some really entertaining illustrations and with some pretty solid discussion on semiotics. But we have been here. We have done that.

My critique of the book (besides it being a rehashing of what has already been said) is basically the same critique many "conservative" (oops, sorry) Christians have had of most Postmodern scholars and those within the Emergent movement. Crystal basically guts her own argument by assuming the Bible isn't inerrant. I provide a few quotes for you to get a taste of her view:

"However, like any map, the Bible is a network of signs that offers multiple intersecting routes to the final destination [Jesus]: law and grace, free will and determinism, faith and works, mercy and justice, tradition and change."

I am not exactly sure what she means here, to be honest. Is she stating that the Bible offers all of these as valid ways to Christ? Is she saying that the Bible is contradictory in what it proposes? Obviously, it should be said that law is not a route to Christ. Further, free will and determinism are not routes to Jesus. Maybe I am just not hip enough to get it.

Further, while stating many Biblical scholars have abandoned inerrancy in light of their studies (particularly Bart Ehrman), she writes,

"How should we respond to Ehrman's thoroughly erudite scholarship? After all, he has educated himself in the original languages of the Bible and has studied and compared numerous ancient documents in order to pinpoint not only the hundreds of changes made to biblical manuscripts but also contradictions within the biblical text. To argue for biblical inerrancy in response makes Christianity seem intellectually untenable to scholars familiar with the most ancient texts. Isn't the point of the Bible to do the opposite: to draw people into relationship with God? Ehrman himself, a one-time evangelical committed to inerrancy, responded to his discoveries by becoming a self-proclaimed agnostic. For him God's Word had become reduced to mere human words." (73)

Her conclusion based upon this paragraph? "Christians on the edge [that is, attempting to deal with contemporary contexts] I would suggest, respond neither with inerrancy nor with agnosticism. Following the Word of God, they offer, instead, the (re)signing of truth." (73)

This is an absolutely disastrous paragraph and was (and is) so befuddling to me that I had to re-read it five times to see if I was getting what she was saying. First, I am wondering if Ms. Downing is aware of the plentiful and valuable critiques of Ehrman's "erudite scholarship"? If not, then she should check into it. If she is, then it seems incredibly disingenuous to say that we should basically abandon inerrancy because of his scholarship. In fact, I have on my shelf at least four solid books by authors who also know the original languages and disagree with Ehrman.So essentially, we should abandon inerrancy because, "To argue for biblical inerrancy in response makes Christianity seem intellectually untenable to scholars familiar with he most ancient texts." This seems to be a basic dismissal of current Evangelical scholarship and somewhat short-sighted.

But what is astounding is that the reason Ehrman left Christianity is because he couldn't justify any of his beliefs because he thought the Bible contained errors. The solution proposed by Ms. Downing solves nothing! If the Bible has errors, then how can we trust any of what it says? If you knew I lied a lot and had a predisposition for creating myth, then it would stand to reason that you wouldn't trust my messages very often. To say, "Well, let's just trust you, even though we know you are a liar" is foolish. That is, basically, what is encouraged here.

She cites approvingly of Peter Enns, who has championed the "Incarnational" model of the Bible. The Bible is both inspired by God but since it is written by men in a particular culture, it must contain errors. Quoting C.S. Lewis, Crystal states, "For [Lewis], 'the right spirit' is not one that seeks to either prove or disprove the Bible's scientific and historical accuracy: opposite sides of the same coin. For him, the right spirit is on the edge; it is a spirit that believes in the resurrection of Jesus while aware that the Bible has certain inconsistencies in the way it points to the same ultimate reality. The right spirit opens itself to the Holy Spirit, seeking in the Bible truths for life lived in relationship with our creation and redeemer." (79)

Apparently, if the Bible is unhistorical (or a-historical), it really doesn't matter because we can get great life lessons. Unfortunately, if the Bible isn't historically accurate, we have a problem. The problem is, we can't trust it. An illustration here might help:

I love the wild west and I try to read a lot about the wild west. Now, what is the measure of a good history book? The fact that it can paint a true picture of the events that happened while minimizing or eliminating error. There is a reason a book like Empire of the Summer Moon gets nominated for a Pulitzer Prize while The Frontiersman, though claiming to be true, did not. The one is extremely accurate and based on many historical sources. The other incorporates facts that are known to be incorrect. While both books are entertaining to read, only one really is right. Guess which one I am trusting?

In the same way the Bible is either historical or it is not. It is either trustworthy, or just a good fictional read. I admit, this sounds a lot like the whole "either/or" thing that is mocked within this book. But I am either/or because both/and simply doesn't work. It will lead to a doctrinal disaster. (As a quick aside, with Ms. Downing's confidence in the Spirit leading people, why is she so convinced the Spirit couldn't have created an inerrant Bible?)

An example of this is how Ms. Downing insists that the three non-negotiable truths Christians must communicate are God's triunity, the incarnation and the free gift of salvation. First, I must confess that her list is utterly anemic and the logic behind picking these three things strikes me as incredibly arbitrary. Norman Geisler has written on this topic and has done a far, far better job discussing the essentials. But second, because she has gutted the trustworthiness of God's revelation, what makes us think (or be led by the Spirit) these three essentials are true? What if there is no Spirit? What if this whole thing is arbitrary?

Her final statement is perhaps the most absurd of all: "In other words, recognizing something as 'a sign,' even without fully understanding what it means, is far preferable to worshiping the sign as holy in and of itself." (80) I'll admit, I am at a loss to figure this statement out. First, I know of no one that claims we know the Bible ("the sign") fully and no one that worships the Bible. That strikes me as a straw-man. She states a bit before this, "...some Christians seem more passionate about protecting the holiness of an inerrant sign (the Bible) than about humbly considering how to be transformed by what the sign points to (God's holy character and loving acts)." (80)

Hogwash. Every major defender of inerrancy I know also has a deep, abiding passion for seeing God's truth and transformation. Norman Geisler is a  great example of this as are many of the SBC theologians. Further, I would argue that if we cannot understand the sign (or can't trust the sign) then the sign doesn't even serve a purpose. Her opinion: Maybe the sign is right. Maybe the sign is wrong.

My thoughts? Get a new stinking sign you can trust! Otherwise you might end up in the lake. The trustworthiness of signs matter. That is why I recommend you stay far, far away from Changing Signs of Truth. With Ms. Downing's changing signs, the road ends quickly and the lake comes up mighty fast.

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

Monday, August 13, 2012

Review of "Historical Reliability of John's Gospel"

John's Gospel has come under attack for years. When one compares it to the synoptics, it is obvious to see the differences. John seems to write with a more theological than historical bent. John records many unique stories, only found in his gospel. The end result is that the fourth gospel is often discarded in scholarly discussions. For instance, the Jesus Seminar has largely rejected John, stating that it is made up of false stories.

Craig Blomberg seeks to establish the historical reliability of the Gospel of John in his book, The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel. Blomberg is well qualified to do this, being an expert in gospel literature and having also penned, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Blomberg's work here is unique because it functions as a commentary that focuses almost exclusively on defending the reliability of what John has written. One will not find an in-depth exegesis of any one given passage. Rather, one will find a series of tight, logical arguments that favor trusting what John has written.

The work itself is somewhat tedious after awhile--not because Blomberg is a bad author but because most of the attacks on John from liberal scholarship follow the same basic arguments. For instance, many liberal scholars reject the possibility of miracles a priori because it goes against a naturalistic worldview. Blomberg has to continually refute that very idea throughout the entire Gospel. In essence, whenever a miracle occurs, Blomberg addresses the critics in virtually the same way. Again, this isn't a shortcoming on Blomberg's part. Rather, it is a testament to how shallow much of the recent criticism of John's Gospel actually is.

At times it feels as if Blomberg sacrifices too much for the sake of scholarship. For instance, when dealing with the arrest of Jesus in John 18, he argues that when Jesus said, "I am," the shock of the statement caused the soldiers to stumble on the uneven ground and since they were likely walking close together, many fell. Blomberg then argues that John saw the irony in this and interpreted it as such. While I understand he is attempting to defend the Bible from historical critics, I think that his argument here does more to discredit his own position. If John has interpreted natural causes as being divine here, what prevents us from using that same argument throughout the rest of John's Gospel. Perhaps John was over-interpreting purely naturalistic events. Again, I don't think Blomberg's position here is totally discredited; it just seems to be undermined a bit. It also makes one wonder if it is always helpful to try to defend an event based on purely naturalistic causes. I think it is wiser to simply state John records that when Jesus spoke, the men fell at his power. Whether it is historical cannot be discerned. It seems disingenuous to John, however, to try to interpret the event as caused by a purely naturalistic sequence of events.

Overall, however, this book is excellent. It deals effectively with major and minor criticisms of John's Gospel. The bibliography is exhaustive and Blomberg clearly knows his stuff. Pastors and seminary students will likely find in this work reassurance and joy that the Gospel of John can still stand strong after the smoke from the attacks has cleared.

*Thanks to IVP for providing a review copy of this work in exchange for a fair review.*

"Canon Revisted" Review

Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books by Michael J. Kruger is one of my frontrunners for the best book I have read in 2012. Let me give you a few reasons why:
1) Kruger's book is uncompromisingly conservative and unique. It is in vogue to argue that the New Testament cannot be authoritative and inerrant because the canon itself was established until later in church history. However, Kruger argues persuasively that the canon, rather than be authoritative because of the community (the Church and the history of the acceptance of the letter) or history (if the letters are authentic or not), is authoritative because it is self-authenticating.

The argument is odd, but devastatingly effective. He states that, "God has created the proper epistemic environment wherein belief in the New Testament canon can be reliably formed." [94] There are three components to this epistemic environment which are providential exposure, attributes of canonicity, and internal testimony of the Holy Spirit.

What this means is that God providentially exposed the church to the books which make up the canon. The attributes of canonicity means that the books possess divine qualities, are corporately received and are of apostolic origin. Finally, the Holy Spirit testifies to these books within the believer's life.

Kruger essentially argues that Christians have warranted belief for accepting the Bible as canon. Obviously, the question is why should anyone accept these premises and Kruger spends the second half of the book arguing why. I found his overall argument persuasive. But it was also refreshing to find someone argue some forcefully in favor of the canon.

2) Kruger's book is modest in what it attempts to prove and, as a result, is effective. In other words, he doesn't try to say "the canon is 100% divinely inspired." Rather, he argues that "we can have rational confidence that the canon is 100% divinely inspired." This, to me, was the smart move to make. In a day and age when our epistemological confidence is constantly being eroded, Kruger starts by humbly building our foundation of what we can know. Further, he rightly reminds the reader the importance of faith in constructing our confidence.

3) Canon Revisited flows extremely well and yet is scholarly. In my opinion, Kruger's writing style is enjoyable. Don't get me wrong: Canon Revisited doesn't read like Harry Potter. But as far as scholarly works go, this is a very interesting and enjoyable work. It is heavily footnoted and exhaustive in its bibliography. This makes Canon Revisited a virtual wall that every person dealing with canon in the future must scale.

So much more could be said in favor of Kruger's book. However, I will leave it at this: this is perhaps the best recent apologetics offering released. Any student of scripture needs to read this. I would also suggest that any student in college who is struggling with some of the common charges against Scripture at a secular university read this book. This is an excellent book, through and through.

*Thanks to Crossway for providing a free review copy of this book. I was not obligated to offer a favorable review.*

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chick-Fil-Jesus?: My Thoughts

I will keep this simple. Colossians 3:17 tells us, "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

1 Corinthians 10:31 reminds us, "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

Similarly Romans 14 constantly reminds us that food could destroy the work of God if eaten in a way that is not humble or driven by the love of Christ.

These verses collectively lay out some really good principles of Christian living.

1) All things we do are spiritual and therefore should reflect the gospel.

2) This means that what we eat is ultimately a gospel issue if done properly or improperly.

3) If you ate at Chick-Fil-A (CFA) today, then fine. How did you eat there? Did you eat with a spirit of humility? Did you eat with a vindictive spirit? Was your goal to "take a stand for Jesus" (how does eating a chicken sandwich do that again?) or was it to glorify God (which by the way, you should be seeking to do tomorrow as well)? Did you eat there because you are against others or did you eat there out of a spirit of compassion and love? Did you cause any fellow brothers or sisters in Christ (maybe those struggling with homosexuality) to stumble in their faith by eating there? Did you eat in a self-righteous manner and attitude? Did you give thanks to God as you ate there? Did you overeat while you were and so disobey God by being a glutton? Just some questions to think about....

4) If you didn't eat there today, did you refuse to do so because you felt other Christians were being immature? Did you pass judgment on your brother or sister in Christ for doing that (and so violate God's Word)? Did you act in a self-righteous manner because you felt you were somehow being a "cool Christian"? Did you show love to those who differed in opinion from you or did you try to shame them? Did you love Christ and glorify Christ in whatever you did choose to eat instead today? Did you bring glory to Christ in NOT eating there today? By not eating there, did you cause any fellow brothers or sisters in your church to stumble in their faith?

Here is how it worked out in my own life: I wasn't going to eat there simply because I didn't care and I didn't see how it was going to legitimately advance the Kingdom. However, Sunday, one of the members of my youth volunteer team asked if we could order CFA for our ConXion night this Wednesday.

I love CFA. I appreciate the stance the CEO has taken on this issue. I love my church and I know several people from my church were wondering what stance I would take. Since I knew that I could eat at CFA or not eat at CFA and still glorify God either way, I opted to eat there. I used this time to teach our youth that it is more important about what we are for than what we are against. I think we also should encourage people (even CEOs) when they take a stand for what we approve of.

I had to confess to God though that I had a very self-righteous attitude when I saw how many people were in CFA. I thought to myself, "Most of these people are probably here for the wrong reasons." Then I realized I was being self-righteous and judgmental. I realized that ultimately, it is by God's grace that I can eat and that I should give thanks for CFA and the opportunity I had to eat there today.

So I ate at CFA and enjoyed the gospel...not because buying a chicken sandwich made me holy or righteous (something I by virtue of being united with Christ), but because I strove to eat for the glory of God.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Break From Book Reviews

This post is coming when I am a) sick b) tired and c) introspective. This means it will be disconnected, possibly incoherent and swing wildly from sadness to joy. Let's begin...

Lately, I have been missing Michigan. I miss Portage. I want to go up and see all of my favorite landmarks. I want to eat at Sweetwater Doughnuts. I want to walk behind the public library and see the snow falling. I want to be around people that have similar accents and don't make fun of how I say "egg" and "leg" because they all say it weird too. I miss hanging out with people who enunciate every syllable in a word. I miss the Michigan sarcasm. I miss the way people let you into their hearts up there...even if it took a long time. I miss the awesome syrup. I miss the strong Dutch influences. Heck, I miss wooden shoes and clogging. I miss Plainwell ice cream. I miss feeling like it was really Fall and it was really Thanksgiving. I miss the Detroit Lions (I still don't know why).

I think honestly, I miss the memories. I miss being a kid sometimes. I miss the walks to the park with my mom. I miss going on nature hikes with my dad. I miss running around First Baptist Church of Portage with my church friends, thinking we were warriors and explorers. I miss the safety I felt during the holiday season. I miss the feel of fresh snow beneath my feet and my nose getting cold. I miss feeling suave and cool eating at Big Apple Bagels (because it had the word "deli" in the name). I miss waking up early and watching Saturday morning cartoons. I remember when the most epic event in my life consisted of Superman and Batman teaming up on Saturday morning to fight the Joker. There was nothing greater in my mind. I miss the innocence of collecting Archie comics and baseball cards and the excitement of going to Scott's Comics and Cards with my dad on Saturday morning. I miss the drive we used to have to take to get to a Wal-Mart in Otsego. I always knew I would be getting a Hot Wheels car from my dad. The most serious choice I had to make was which one to pick out.

As much as I miss those memories though, I know one thing: memories can become an idol. It is so easy to long for simpler times. It is so easy to think back and live in the past. But God has placed me in a particular topos, a place, for a specific purpose. For the past year or so, God has really been breaking me of my two biggest areas of personal struggle--focusing too much on the future and dwelling too much on the past. God has had to rip away virtually every single idol (like education) and has forced me to focus on the now. He has redirected my focus to my original calling of being a pastor.

He has really done this by refocusing my eyes upon the cross and the gospel. I have been exploring this concept of "preaching the gospel to yourself" for the past year and I can honestly say, it has revolutionized my life. It has opened my eyes anew to the wonders of the gospel. It has forced me to stop being so caught up in the past or focused too much on the future. God has forced me to look at him and just enjoy the grace of being where I am, who I am and who I am with. God has told me to stop with the "self-improvement" techniques and just delight in Him. I have been trying to explore the depth of the riches of God.

So while I still miss the things of my past, I am learning to realize my security back then was a grace God provided for a time. But my ultimate security and my ultimate joy should be found in Christ. I find security because of his death and resurrection. I am united with him and secure in him.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Theology of Luke and Acts Book Review

For years now there have been three major staples on my bookshelf: Darrell Bock's two-volume commentary on Luke and and his one volume commentary on Acts from the BECNT series. Bock has established himself as an expert on Lukan-source material. So I eagerly was anticipating his synthesis of Luke's theology in his Gospels and in Acts in A Theology of Luke and Acts: God's Promised Program, For All Nations which is a part of Zondervan's Biblical Theology of the New Testament series. I was not disappointed.

The first four chapters of this 500+ page resource are devoted to introductory matters and take up less than 1/5 of the book. The real meat and potatoes are found in 19 chapters where he absolutely breaks down the theology of Luke. I spent my time with chapter 5 in Bock's work which was devoted to a narrative development of the "Plan, Activity and Character of God." Bock walks the reader through virtually every chapter tracing how God's plan of introducing the "already not-yet of the kingdom" works itself out.

As Bock so eloquently displays in his narrative approach to the chapter, often the acts of God are placed out in the open and later are explained by the characters themselves. These sort of helpful insights are scattered throughout Bock's text and shed helpful light upon the text as a whole.

As a youth pastor, I am constantly looking for the application for my teens and for myself. Some commentaries leave me with a lot of research and a breathtaking amount of information, but with little I can really nail down and make practical. However, each of Bock's chapters is just loaded with application. I will fully admit that as I read through his book, I found myself praise God and his infinite wisdom.

That is the kind of writer Darrell Bock is--he is a theologian in love with God. I highly commend A Theology of Luke and Acts: God's Promised Program, For All Nations.

Thanks to Zondervan for providing me a review copy of the book in exchange for a fair and balanced review.*

Friday, May 25, 2012

"Introduction to Early Christianity" Review

I will admit upfront my frustration with many books on early Christianity. I find it rare that any book on early Christianity contains everything I am looking for. I want a book that quotes extensively from the original sources. I want a book that outlines clearly and systematically what the early church believed (although I recognize it was far from monolithic). I want it to be easy to read and to not go into unnecessary depth. I want it to be exciting and capture the drama.

Maybe I am asking for too much. But I get really tired of reading books that promise me a systematic look at the early church beliefs and then only take a few church fathers and systematize their views. Crossway's Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Chuch is a classic example in my opinion of how not to write a book on early Christianity. It was absolutely abysmal. Yet it feels that almost every book I have read on early Christianity does this. So, I will admit that approaching Laurie Guy's Introducing Early Christianity: A Topical Survey of Its Life, Beliefs & Practices, I had both high hopes and yet fully expected to be disappointed.

But here is what is awesome: I wasn't. Laurie Guy has written a truly accessible and engaging work on the early church. What I absolutely love about this book is that the author tries really hard to give you the panoramic view of what the early church believed. He deals with church government, baptism, women in ministry and more. Each chapter feels like the perfect length too. While at times, I confess, the writing is a tiny bit dry, I still really enjoyed the work as a whole.

He quotes a good bit from the original sources too. I really appreciate that. I want to hear from the church fathers themselves--not just a summary of their thought.

As far as the most enlightening chapter, that has got to be the chapter of women in ministry. Not only is the chapter incredibly challenging, but it also gives a great deal of perspective to the current debate that ranges in the church.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about the book is that it puts evangelicals in touch with their heritage. So often we forget that tradition is so vitally important and we forget that our beliefs were born through much blood sweat and tears. The men who passed down our beliefs were truly brilliant thinkers. In a day and age where we have a sort of intellectual snobbery because we have more information, Guy's Introduction to Early Christianity is a stout reminder that we stand on the shoulders of God-loving, theological giants. I was humbled and excited.

So get this book. You won't be disappointed!

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

"Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective" Review

Global Theology In Evangelical Perspective is a collection of essays that were presented at the Wheaton Theology Conference in 2011. As one might expect from a book that features of a host of contributors, some essays are solid while others are lacking. In terms of strong chapters, K.K. Yeo's chapter on Christian Chinese Theology stands out as does Jeffery P. Greenman's chapter on learning and teaching global theologies. I also found Terry LeBlanc's chapter on Native American theology quite interesting as well.

But let me be level my one major criticism against this book: in the contributors' desire to be global, they rail an awful lot on Western theology. We hear again and again about how impacted by the Enlightenment we are. We hear about how we are obsessed with either/or theology. We hear about how we are overly speculative and miss the point. We hear about how intolerant we are against people with different experiences.

A good example of this is actually in Terry LeBlanc's chapter. In that chapter he relays the story of a friend who went out and "heard the trees" tell him what to do in relation to a particular problem. LeBlanc argues that we should view this experience through the lens of creation groaning in Romans 8:15ff. However, he argues, Western theology would view this as panentheism at best and pantheism at worst--something demonic and not Christian. Westerners, according to LeBlanc, have failed in this respect.

It seems to me that LeBlanc isn't on very solid exegetical ground here (no doubt another sign of my very Western lens--I am passionate about correct exegesis). But the deeper question is this: are Westerners justified in their concern? If we are to be truly global in our theology, that means we must not just listen to other voices but also critique other voices in light of what God's Word says. One of the biggest weaknesses in the collection of essays is that God's Word is seldom cited. As a result, it reads like a bunch of speculative (overly pretentious, to be honest) people who speak a lot about experience and little about the Word of God. While our experience should play an important role, it always needs to be in humble submission to the text.

I also worry if we are not blowing the differences between our theologies out of proportion. Most of the time, as I was reading the book, I thought "We have been saying that as Westerners for years." It felt like the contributors were railing against strawmen that simply were not true.

My advice? Save money and check out this book. There are better books and the essays don't seem to contribute much to the overall discussion of global theology.

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

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"Spirituality According to Paul" Review

Probably one of the best books written last year that seemed to really fly under the radar was Rodney Reeves' little book Spirituality According to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ. I don't say this lightly because there were a lot of really good theological works written in 2011. However, in terms of sheer practicality, I think Reeves' book is up there.

Let me explain a bit. Spirituality According to Paul is organized around Paul's three major ideas: you were crucified with Christ, buried with Christ and raised with Christ. Reeves' devotes four chapters to exploring each of these themes. The catch to all of this is that he explores in a way that reminds of the mystics--except with jam up exegesis. What I mean is that each chapter is packed with these powerful, practical ideas and insights into Paul's theology. However, the book isn't linear like many theological works and it definitely doesn't spend a significant time on any one given topic. Think a less poetic, more exegetical Eugene Peterson and you are barking up the right tree with this book. Reeves' style is fluid and compelling and makes you want to read more.

For what it is worth, I thought the first four chapters alone would be worth the price of admission. In particular, his first two chapters absolutely floored me. I actually had to put the book down on numerous occasions and just worship God. However, what is perhaps the greatest praise for a book that I can give is this: it made me want to go back and re-read the Bible. Reeves' book made me want to put his book down and pick up Philippians and read it again...and again...and again. Seriously. Reeves' book is that compelling.

I don't know really how to categorize this book. It isn't academic per se, but it would be misleading to say it isn't scholarly. It is. It is just so unbelievably practical that it makes you feel like you are reading a devotional. So go buy this book. You won't regret it.

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

Monday, April 16, 2012

When the Key Doesn't Fit: A Review of James M. Hamiliton Jr's "Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches."

I do not envy the man who attempts to write a commentary on the book of Revelation. It is a tough book to preach, let alone write a commentary on. There are far too many bad commentaries out there too. Some are overly speculative and leave the reader with little more than some great fiction reading. That is really a shame because of the book of Revelation is incredibly relevant to the church today. That is why I applaud James Hamilton's new commentary Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches, which is a part of the the "Preaching the Word" series. Hamilton combines both great scholarly detail and incredibly relevant application into one commentary. You can tell as you read the book that Hamilton loves to preach and loves the church. It absolutely shines through in this commentary.

This commentary is written first and foremost with the pastor in mind. Each chapter is broken down into different parts: an opening illustration, the need that the part of Revelation meets in the church, the main point of the passage, a preview of the text (that is, an outline of the text), the context, the exegesis of the outline and then the conclusion. As you can see, the book is thorough and yet contains application throughout each section. This is a tremendous resource for pastors. Some of the charts Hamilton has in the book are absolutely wonderful as well.

Now, for the gritty details that every person wants to know about a commentary on Revelation. Hamilton is pre-mil but not a Dispensationalist. He is heavily, heavily influenced by G.K. Beale's theology of the temple. Hamilton is an expert in parallels between the OT and NT and draws heavily upon those parallels to formulate his exegesis of the text.

This is where, in my opinion, Hamilton runs into problems. Too often I feel that Hamilton will argue against a literal understanding of the text because he sees a parallel in the OT. As a result, it often feels that Hamilton is forcing a key into a lock that doesn't fit. An example of this is in chapter 21 where he exegetes 11:1-19. Hamilton argues that a) the temple is not a literal temple but rather is figurative for the church, b) the two witnesses are the church and c) the 42-months is not a literal 42-months but rather refers to church history from the time of the cross until the time of the beast.

He bolsters his argument showing the parallels between the two witnesses and Zechariah 4 as well as some inter-textual parallels. That is all well and good. But his hermeneutic runs afoul here. First, Hamilton points out that Daniel's "weeks of years" were, in fact, literal. But then, just a few sentences later, argues that there is no literal seven year tribulation. Logic would argue that if Daniel was literal for the first 69 weeks of years, he would be literal for the last one. Similarly, Hamilton argues that the two witnesses are the church because 1) in the Bible everything must be confirmed by two witnesses; 2) they are called lampstands and so are the churches in Revelation 1; 3) the image of the witnesses as lampstands and olive trees goes back to Zech. 4 which symbolically means that the church will be Spirit-empowered; 4) the witnesses have the power of Elijah and Moses which are symbolic of the protection the church will have.

The issue here is that if all of these images are based upon literal things (with the exception of Zechariah 4), why can't the two prophets be literal? Why can't they have power like Elijah and Moses? Why can't there be a literal temple? There is nothing intrinsic within the text that would suggest this has to be symbolic. In fact, a reader of the OT would expect there to be a literal fulfillment. It would seem to me that Hamilton is too quick to write off a literal interpretation of these events. Admittedly, a literal-interpretation of the text is not popular anymore. Still, I find Hamilton's interpretation of these texts unpersuasive.

That said, it would be a shame to miss out on what Hamilton himself mentions: regardless of your opinion of what the text says, all can agree that the Revelation 11:1-19 shows God's sovereignty in protecting his people. And there lies the beauty of this commentary--even when you disagree with Hamilton, he gets to the bigger picture. He reminds the reader of what really matters--unity and seeing the God of the Bible. He finds the lowest common denominator and reminds the reader of that.

That, to me, is the strength of this commentary and one of the reasons I love James Hamilton's writings. You may not agree with everything he says, but you will always come out worshiping God. So pick up Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches. You won't be disappointed and you will certainly become a sharper exegete for it.

*Thanks to Crossway Publishing for providing me with a free review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review. I was under no obligation to give this book a positive review.*