Thursday, December 19, 2013


Not all spoken words are equal. Several factors play an important role in language:

1) Your tone

2) What you want to accomplish with your words (command, question, statement).

3) Who you are.

This third point often gets overlooked but it shouldn't because it is absolutely vital to grasp. Two people can say the SAME thing but the statement can carry different weight. I can tell someone with cancer, "You will get through this" and yet the words will be so much more meaningful if a cancer survivor says the exact same thing.

Of course, it also works in reverse. I can say something mean as a teacher and completely demolish a student's self-esteem. Why? Because I am in a position of authority and influence. A fellow student can say the same thing and it not matter. Who you are loads your words with weight.

Which is where the problem lies with this whole Duck Dynasty fiasco.

Fellow Christians, please be aware of this: the problem the world often has with us is not our stance against gay marriage. The problem is with the way we express that stance. Often those in great positions of influence say outlandish, unqualified statements that undermine the truth of what is being said.

This is why the Pope can be on the front cover of Time and Phil Robertson can be in hot water for holding to the same view. Phil's statement, I believe, is true: the Bible speaks clearly against homosexuality. However, Phil's statements didn't come across in a loving manner (at least not in print) and some of his statements were vulgar.

While he could probably get by with that in a one-on-one conversation in the woods, it isn't going to fly in front of millions.

Nor should it.

The reality is that while many are screaming, "Freedom of speech" few are acknowledging this reality--Scripture does not give us freedom of speech as is traditionally understood in America.

Paul outlines several biblical injunctions for us on this premise:

1) "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (Ephesians 4:11-16)

Three things to notice briefly: First, this is a Gospel-centered command. We are to speak the truth in love and the truth is nothing short of the Gospel. Second, we are to speak the truth. This prevents us from falling into doctrinal error (v. 14). Third, we are to speak the truth in "love." I have a suspicion that Paul is building us toward a cross-centered way of speaking by defining love as what Christ did for us at the cross (Eph. 5:1-2). Thus our language should demonstrate the love of Christ at the cross.

2)  "Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." (Ephesians 4:25-29)

Notice again the close parallel between truth and grace. We are called to avoid corrupting speech and are called to use speech that builds up and gives grace to the hearers. Again, the language here is rich is in "cross-centered" speech.

3) "Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving." (Ephesians 5:3)
In a matter of just a few verses Paul has encouraged us to be careful with our speech. We should make sure our language is neither crass or inappropriate. Rather, we should speak in such a way that it is filled with thanksgiving and glorifies God as a result.

So as a Christian, what can we summarize about how we should speak?

Simply put, we are called to speak in such a way that makes beautiful the reality of sin, the glory of the Gospel and the scandal of grace. Anything less is a failure to speak rightly.

Therein lies the dilemma of Phil's statements. They do not make beautiful the Gospel. They crush the hearer. They offend, not so much because of their truth, but because of the ugliness of the language. They have dropped like a bomb in America, not because of the scandal of grace and the reality of sin, but because the package that message was delivered in was very, very ugly. It was delivered by a man that many people looked up to. It was careless. It has caused a crisis. It could have been different.

I fail in this too. Chances are you do too. But let us never forget our calling as Christians is to be cautious with how we speak. It should be cross-like. The world will state hate us for that. But let the world hate us for the same reasons it hated Christ...not because of the package we deliver the glorious message in.

Friday, November 29, 2013 O.T. Survey book that WON'T put you to sleep

Two facts:

1) I like charts because I am visual and also slightly ADD. I need them to process what you are saying.

2) What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible has a bunch of charts and visuals.

Therefore, What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About edited by Jason S. DeRouchie made me very happy. It satisfied my longings for an Old Testament survey book that didn’t put me to sleep. Let me hit the high points for you…

  • The book places each book in its redemptive-historical context, allowing you to easily see how this book fits into the grand narrative God was/is working out within the world.

  •  It doesn’t devote a bunch of time to less interesting topics such as dating the books and authorship issues. It is included but it is not extensively looked at. Normally a page is devoted to such topics.

  • The book is focused on the theology of each book of the Old Testament. The term “a survey of Jesus’ Bible” is appropriate to some extent but to be honest, it reads more like an book by book O.T. Theology (which I like).

  • There is a focus on Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament and it keeps God’s glory central which is a big win.

  • A lot of charts and pictures to keep you happy and interested.

  • This book has a broad range of appeal: the student, the interested layperson, and the pastor. For me personally, I have already integrated a fair amount of this book into my lecture material for my students.

In my opinion, this is absolutely the best Old Testament survey book available. I loved it. I actually sat down and wanted to read through it. Any book “textbook” that can do that is a winner. Pick it up!

*Thanks to Kregel Academic for the free review copy in exchange for a fair, unbiased review*

Monday, July 15, 2013

"Jonathan Edwards and Justification" Book Review

Jonathan Edwards and Justification is disappointing to me. 

I have got to be honest: I had high hopes for this book and was severely let down. It isn't that the essays are bad. It isn't that the book is boring. It isn't even that the book is really bad.

The book just is. It contains five essays looking at various aspects of Jonathan Edward's view of justification. Of those five essays two of them are excellent. The rest are just ok--nothing exciting, nothing memorable. That, to me, is a tragedy concerning the stellar topic this book covers. Jonathan Edwards' view of justification is both beautiful and intriguing. It is a shame that an already short book is marred by three mediocre essays.

That said, let me highlight the two best essays: Kyle Strobel's essay "By Word and Spirit: Jonathan Edwards on Redemption, Justification, and Regeneration" and Samuel T. Logan Jr.'s essay, "Justification and Evangelical Obedience" are marvelous.

First, let's talk about Strobel's essay. Strobel highlights the personal nature of justification. There are so many good quotes here but I want to just point out a few:

"By focusing on the economic activity of the persons of the triune God, that is, by orienting redemption around the purchase of the Spirit by Christ from the Father, Edwards emphasizes God's self-giving rather than the idea that God only gives certain benefits." (P. 47)

"Christ's role as mediator and federal head involves not only his obedience, but also his justification. Christ does not procure a treasure and then hand it out to those with faith: Christ and the Spirit are the treasure." (P.54)

"Instead of a gratuitously gracious declaration that constitutes a reality which is not (making righteous the unrighteous), God qua judge simply declares what is true: believers are righteous through the legal union they have with Christ. As we see below, Edwards does not undermine God's constituting speech act, or its gratuitously gracious nature, but simply moves its doctrinal location. Theologically,, Christ is the center around which all soteriological loci find their orbit. The Spirit as we turn to now, applies this work by uniting to Christ, illuminating Christ to the elect, and infusing them with divine love, grace, and holiness." (P. 59)

What I love about Strobel's essay is how he paints Edwards' view of justification in such personal, beautiful terms. The essay is excellent.

Second, the essay by Samuel T. Logan is excellent as he breaks down Edwards' view of obedience and salvation. Again, I feel like giving you a few quotes from the chapter is sufficient grounding for you grasping why this chapter is excellent.

"By framing the issue as he does, Edwards asserts a vitally important principle: the nature of the operations by God's Spirit and the signs of the operations of God's Spirit are directly related. To put it in the terms of the question with which we began this discussion, what causes a person to be a Christian and what signs identify a Christian are inextricably related." (P. 109)

"To anticipate where Edwards is going...neither right thoughts alone (orthodox theology) nor right experiences alone (religious passion) make me a Christian." (P. 110)

"...'The saints affections begin with God'...And that is the key to the 'begin with' language above. The fundamental reason why I--and you--should exercise faith in Jesus Christ is because he deserves it!" (P. 119)

"Being in Christ also gives the believer a relish for the beauty of God, a relish that has always described the attitude of the three persons of the Trinity toward one another." (P. 120)

As you can see, there is some great content in both essays. Unfortunately, they don't justify the price of the book. That said, if you are a fan of Jonathan Edwards' this work may be of some value to you if you can find it for a discounted price. There are so many excellent works on Edwards' theology, however, I feel like this work is superfluous. Disappointing indeed. 

*Thanks to Crossway Publishing for providing me with a free review copy of this work in exchange for a fair review.* 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"Interpreting the Pauline Letters" Book Review

I like things that save space. I love my Iphone because I can have all of my apps in one place. I love my Ipad because I can carry around digital versions of my books wherever I go. And I love Interpreting the Pauline Letters by John D. Harvey because in one (small!) book he draws together information that could only be gleaned by several commentaries, books, and homiletic books.

Interpreting the Pauline Letters (the first in a new series by Kregel that seeks to educate pastors in how to do proper exegesis) is impressive in what it sets out to accomplish. Chapter 1 sets out the genre of Paul's Letters. Harvey has specialized for quite a while in oral patterns in Paul's writings. As a result, this is a pretty dense (but important) chapter that sets out some principles on how Paul structures his letters.

Chapter 2 contains the historical background behind Paul's letters. Harvey also includes a brief defense of authorship of the disputed Pauline letters. All of this information is meant to be sufficient but not exhaustive. In other words, for the pastor pressed on time, the information presented is just enough.

Chapter 3 includes the theology of Paul's letters. Obviously, Harvey cannot be exhaustive here but he actually accomplishes far more than I expected. He sets forward the key to understanding Paul's thinking: in Adam/in Christ and extrapolates from there. Further, he goes through each letter and draws out the emphasis of each.

Chapters 4-8 walk the pastor through the stages of sermon preparation from translation to written sermon. It should be noted that you have to know Greek to track with what Harvey says at this point. Seminary students shouldn't have any problems but pastors with little to no knowledge of Greek won't gain nearly as much out of this.

My only complaint here is the complaint I have with MOST expositional sermon books: the amount of work they suggest the pastor should do in preparation for the sermon is immense. Now do not get me wrong: I value pastors who pour their energy into a sermon and I think sermon preparation is absolutely essential. Realistically, however, I do not know how many pastors have time to weigh the importance of each and every textual variant found in the Greek.

That said, I am glad there is a book out there that at least gives pastors an ideal to work towards. Further, it would seem that more and more churches are adopting "teaching pastors" who spend more time studying and researching. I can see this book being a Godsend for them. I also love that Harvey, a Pauline expert, gives a list of recommended resources when studying Paul.

In conclusion, I would strongly recommend this book for pastors and Bible teachers. It is impressive in what it accomplishes and yet the size is incredibly manageable (211 pages including glossary). The price tag is small and for the information you get, it is a steal.

*Thanks to Kregel Publishing for providing a free review copy of this work in exchange for a fair review*

Monday, May 6, 2013

"Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul" Review

It seems that charts and theology are becoming quite popular again. In the past few years we have seen a wealth of publications containing charts on virtually every area of philosophy and theology...and even on books of the Bible (like Hebrews and Revelation). Now, from Lars Kierspel and Kregel publishing, comes Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul. The title of the book says it all. The question is, is it worth your money?

Let me provide a succinct answer and back it up with three points and a caveat: No educated pastor, teacher, lay leader, seminary student or interested Bible student should be without this book. The book is that good. Why?

1) It features 111 charts on virtually every area of Paul's life, letters and thought. It is as comprehensive as you might imagine...and then some. A few highlights include chart 89 which gives the highlights on the "faith of Christ" vs. "faith in Christ" debate; charts 48 and 49 which detail the list of Paul's quotation AND allusions to Old Testament passages; chart 43 which contains every hapax legomena in Paul's letters and charts 1-9 which contain a wealth of information concerning Paul's cultural background.

My only complaint (and I feel ridiculous even complaining about this) is that I wish they had a chart for the key words for every one of Paul's letters. Lars Kierspel provides one for 1 Corinthians and Romans...and I loved it so much I wanted one for every letter.

2) The raw data presented is simply breathtaking. Keep in mind that there are few conclusions the charts themselves draw (you can find that in Lars' commentary on his charts in the last few pages of the book). Instead what is at your fingertips is just pure data. It essentially boils down all of the exegetical information you need and tells you, "Now study and draw conclusions." It is a treasure trove of data that I had to go to multiple sources to find before. I love that it is all in one place now.

3) It is wonderfully laid out. A book that has a bunch of charts is no good if the charts are confusing. Thankfully, the charts are clear, concise and easy to read. There is a lot of information packed into these charts and the fact that they are still easily understood is a testament to how much thought went into this volume.

A Caveat: While there is an absolute wealth of information provided in this book, this book also simplifies many of the issues. An example of this can be found on chart 88 which attempts to show verses in Paul that highlight God's sovereignty and human responsibility. Lars provides a good (but not great) list. So the chart is not exhaustive but it contains the main ideas. Another example of this is chart 111 which attempts to give an introduction on the "New Perspectives" on Paul.  In all honesty, the chart is not very useful unless you are aware of a) the conversation as a whole and b) that the entire NPP is not monolithic. Even then, I found the entire discussion in the chart somewhat confusing. While I am glad that a chart was included, I wish it had been better thought out. This is another example of simplification.

Those are minor quibbles, however, about an otherwise fantastic book. Pick it up today! You will not be disappointed.

*I received this book as a review copy from Kregel Academic in exchange for a fair review.*