Sunday, March 25, 2012

When God Makes Things Ugly

We face different crisis in our lives. Some of these crises are brought about by sin (either our own or others), Satan, and the natural effects of sin in a fallen world (such as death by old age). However, there is another type of crisis that Christians may encounter as well: when God makes something we treasure, ugly.

For instance, as I write this, a particular desire of mine that I have been wrestling with for several years, has become quite ugly. God exposed this desire in all of its ugliness and revealed it for what it was: an idol that took the place of Him.

Tim Lane and Paul Tripp write in their outstanding book How People Change, "What false lovers entice you to forget your true husband the faithfulness he deserves? Why do we worship other things in place of Christ? Quite simply, we worship what we find attractive. We allow many things to eclipse the beauty of Christ. We devote our hearts to our jobs, other people, a state of mind (comfort, security), success, power, peace or money. We may have many options before us, but we cannot get our identity from these things [p. 50]."

One of the ways God tends to break us from these false "beauties" is by exposing them in all their ugliness. This, of course, leads us to a crisis. Whenever a false god has taken the place of the True God and is then removed, we are forced to reorient our lives. It is a tough situation, but one that can be successfully navigated by throwing ourselves upon the grace of Jesus.

So when your idols are exposed for all their ugliness and you enter into crisis, celebrate! Know that our God is a passionate, loving God. He desires all of your affection and will not settle for you loving ugly things.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"Presence, Power, and Promise: The Role of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament" Review

It's odd that so few works today address the role of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament. Sure, you have occasional works that deal with the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament like Christopher J.H. Wright's fine book. But a very scholarly, evangelical approach to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is seldom found. Thankfully, Presence, Power and Promise: The Role of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament has been published. This collection of essays, written by respected evangelical scholars, does a very good job addressing the various exegetical issues in most of the texts in the Old Testament that mention the Spirit of God.

The essays range from basic introductory issues, to the Spirit in creation to the Spirit in wisdom to the Spirit in at Qumran. As might be expected, some articles are more technical (such as chapter 21) than others. Some are more enjoyable to read than others as well (Tremper Longman's chapter is quite good as is John Walton's). Some chapters almost feel more like a formality for completions sake (such as chapter 8) that don't contribute much to the overall theology of the Spirit.

Some casual readers may be surprised to find that the authors tend to be quite reserved in seeing the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. They tend to err on the side of caution and are adamant that while the Holy Spirit is present in the text, it is not the well developed theology of the Spirit we see in the NT.

This is a very helpful resource for professors and pastors. It is well worth the time investing in this large work. It is informative and useful. While I will admit that some of the chapters are quite dry (even by Biblical studies standards), I think this is a book that will be read with a great deal of profit by most.

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

Friday, March 9, 2012

"How to Read the Bible Through the Lens of Jesus": A Focus on Wisdom Literature

There seems to be a proliferation of material recently on how preachers need to keep the text focused on Christ. In my hermeneutics class I was always encouraged to read the text Christologically.

This is great.

But how does one actually do that?

Up until lately there have been few resources that actually walked the reader through each book of the Bible, drawing their focus on how the book contributes to a Christocentric understanding of the Bible.

Thankfully, however, a new resource has just been released by Zondervan entitled How to Read the Bible Through the Lens of Jesus by Michael Williams. In this review, I have been asked to particularly interact with how Williams deals with the Wisdom literature of the Bible.

Each chapter is brief, spanning no more than 5 or so pages. Williams structures each chapter on a book by introducing the major theme and then focusing on how Christ relates to a particular book and finally, he deals with contemporary application for the book (each chapter also closes with some great small group questions).

In dealing with Job, Williams sees the major theme as God being active in ways that we do not see and understand. The Jesus lens in Job points us to Christ as the ultimate righteous sufferer. In Proverbs, the reader is reminded that God has created an order in the world which he should be mindful of. Further, the Jesus lens reminds the reader that Jesus is the perfect model of wise and wholesome living. Finally, in Ecclesiastes, Williams sees the theme as God prompting the Teacher to ask the meaning of life. The Jesus lens focuses us on life "above the sun"--that is, in Christ. Williams encourages us to remember that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and, as a result, brings meaning to this world.

The structure of the book is fantastic and should really serve many people quite well. My only real complaint is that I wish each chapter were longer. I realize that Williams was trying to reach as many people as possible and not just pastors and seminarians. However, I enjoyed each chapter so much that I wouldn't have complained if he had expanded just a few more pages to each chapter.

Overall, I high recommend this book. I know that I personally will be using this book with my youth small group. It provides a fantastic overview of the text and really puts together the puzzles pieces of the Bible. This is one resources I know I will be turning to again and again.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The People We Pass By...

I am sitting in a coffee shop. I am surveying a group of people that are talking, watching musicians and listening to poetry. Some of these people I went to college with. I had never talked with some of them before tonight. Some true lovely women are here--beautiful hearts, brilliant minds.

Most of them in college were overlooked by men who were seeking to score the perfect 10s.

They missed out.

They missed out on Godly, beautiful women. They missed out on sweet, hardworking wives. They missed out on women who are captivating and display God's beauty.

We pass people by so quickly. They don't meet our standard of beauty. They don't meet our expectations of what "cool" looks like. We stereotype so easily.

I've been asking God to help me see people the way he sees them. The idea of the "imago dei" (Image of God) keeps coming up again and again.

This world is beautiful and filled with beautiful people that need to hear of the love of God and the goodness of His creation. We need to let those who have been passed by that they are worth stopping for. We need to let them know that they are dignified.

We need to let them know that the Creator thinks they are marvelous. They need to know they are a masterpiece.

I am not just talking about unbelievers either.

Christians need to be reminded of this. Everyday.

Any proclamation of the Gospel that does not restore human dignity is not really the Gospel.

So preach the Gospel to yourself, to your family, to your church and to your friends.

Preach it those we pass by.

Friday, March 2, 2012

"Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology" Book Review

I'll admit, the idea of "rediscovering Paul" sounds some what presumptuous. So when I was sent a review copy of Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology, I came into the text with the attitude of "yeah, yeah. I've heard of people trying to put new spins on Paul. This isn't anything new." I was right...and let me tell you, that's a good thing!

Authors David Capes, Rodney Reeves and E. Randolph Richards have written a book that takes recent Pauline scholarship and boils it down to the essentials. There isn't much by way of pioneering here. What you have is just a flat out consistent, relevant and fun (yes, fun) textbook on Paul. They are uncompromisingly conservative on their approach to Paul and give him the benefit of the doubt. They argue for the legitimacy of the disputed Pauline letters and provide a balanced approach to the N.P.P. The authors are also quite fair, providing the spectrum of arguments.

As the title of the book already tells the reader, the authors devote time to background issues in Paul and from there they move on to evaluating each letter and finally, they give an overview of his theology. The chapters devoted to Pauline background are fascinating. I really enjoyed the chapter on letter writing in antiquity.

The overview of each of Paul's letters is great. What makes this book standout is that the authors will have a little subsection every few pages that explains the relevance a particular point of Paul's letters. Their application was always very challenging to me. They often tie in Paul's theology to present day issues. It is absolutely fantastic.

The only point where I can really complain is their section on Paul's theology. They really own devote a chapter to synthesizing Paul's thinking. The result is that it is a bit light. While I acknowledge that this is just an introduction, it would have been nice to at least spend three or so chapters on different parts of Paul's theology.

These are small complaints though for a really fantastic book. It never really felt like I was reading a textbook on Paul. The pacing seemed just right. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who is looking for a refresher on Paul or an excellent introduction on his thought.

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