Tuesday, July 7, 2015

"Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness" Review

One of the things I appreciate about the Puritans is there resoluteness that Christians are truly different--we are in the world but we are not to be of it. Our lives ought to be transformed and that makes our relationship with the world tenuous. I am not sure we can be reminded of this truth enough. Along this line, I heartily commend the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness by Jeremy Walker. 

Walker uses the term "pilgrim" to describe the life of a Christian here on earth. The Bible and theologians have constantly referred to followers of God as strangers and those passing through the world. Walker calls Christians to not abandon the world or ignore it but to remember that this world, in the grand scheme of God's narrative, is not our home. He explains how we ought to live as pilgrims:

Chapter 3: Understand the Environment
Chapter 4: Know the Enemy
Chapter 5: Fight the Battles
Chapter 6: Pursue the Mission
Chapter 7: Respect the Authorities
Chapter 8: Relieve the Suffering
Chapter 9: Appreciate the Beauty
Chapter 10: Anticipate the Destiny
Chapter 11: Cultivate the Identity
Chapter 12: Serve the King

As you can see by the outline of the book, Walker advocates that we walk carefully between both acknowledging the world's importance but also acknowledging the world's fallen state. I greatly appreciate his emphasis on the biblical authority. We are repeatedly drawn back to truly trusting what the Bible says about Satan, world powers, suffering, and the kingdom to come.

For this reason, Passing Through has a very "old school" feel to it. I mean that in the best possible way. Modern theologians just don't call us to taking the Bible at its word. Walker doesn't mince words or play around. This is valuable for the reason that we live in a world that seems to becoming more hostile than ever toward Christianity. Walker doesn't leave us pilgrims in despair. He constantly reminds us of God's sovereignty and goodness in this broken world.

Further, Walker doesn't leave us hating the world or those in the world. He reminds us that this world is something to be enjoyed and appreciated without conforming. This balance is something difficult to reach and yet the author does a remarkable job of it.

The only thing that I find questionable is Walker's dismissal of the idea that this world is in fact our home. Authors like N.T. Wright have demonstrated (convincingly, in my opinion) that there is continuity between this world and the New Heavens and Earth. It seems, at times, that Walker relies to heavily on authors like Calvin and the Puritans in informing his language here. Recapturing the Christian vision for this world (and not a genuinely "new" world) I feel is important and I am not sure that Walker does the best job of doing this.

Nevertheless, there is so much to value in this book and I highly recommend it to all readers of virtually any reading level. There is much to profit in reading it.

Shaun Tabatt recently had an interview with the author of this book which you can listen to here:

*Thanks to Cross-Centered Reviews for this book which I was given in exchange for a fair review*

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Two New and Noteworthy books

Bound for the Promised Land: The land promise in God's Redemptive plan by Oren R. Martin (IVP, 2015)

Oren R. Martin introduces the newest monograph in the New Studies in Biblical Theology. It is about time that the NSBT series had a book on the land promises in the Bible. Unfortunately, I am not sure that this is the work they were hoping for. This is by far the weakest work in the entire series that I have read. The reason for this is that Martin adds virtually nothing to our understanding of the Promised Land. Further, he primarily interacts with other scholars from his own theological tradition (conservative Southern Baptist). It feels as if he is just condensing the thinking of Gentry, Wellum and Beale. He essentially argues that what was promised in the Old Testament concerning the land is fulfilled in the New Testament in Christ. He doesn't effectively, in my opinion, dispatch Dispensational thinking. It is disappointing.

That isn't to say the book is useless. On a practical level, I have found this book helpful when needing a cliff-notes version of other larger works. The book is readable. Unfortunately, the level of technicality that is normally displayed in NSBT just isn't here. This book could have been so much more.

Do We Need the New Testament?: Letting the Old Testament Speak for Itself by John Goldingay (IVP, 2015)

I like John Goldingay. He is a brilliant Old Testament scholar and I have personally profited greatly from his work. This new work promises to be a sort of preview of a biblical theology his writing. That sounds great. Too bad this book isn't. There are some good points here and there (his chapter on the Grand Narrative and the Middle Narrative in chapter four is pretty solid). The weakest spot of this book is the fact that John Goldingay oversells the idea that the New Testament offers nothing really new. Paul makes abundantly clear that there is something radically new with the coming of Christ (as does the book of Hebrews).

One of the more ridiculous chapters in the book is when Goldingay argues that we should be wary of being Christ-centered, Trinitarian or constrained by the rule of faith when interpreting the Old Testament. Jesus had no such problem using himself as the hermeneutical method for reading the Old Testament. His statements are not very well grounded or defended. This is obviously debatable since some have given this book great reviews. However, I found the work frustrating. 

I am a fan of the Old Testament. I think that it contains almost everything we need to know in order to accurately interpret the New Testament. Goldingay's work is definitely provocative. Unfortunately, in this case, I am not sure that is such a good thing. Maybe his full-length biblical theology will do a better job explaining his thinking. For me, this book is a definite pass.

*Thanks to IVP for providing the review copies*

Review of "Providence Made Flesh"

Calvinism can quickly run into a roadblock. If God exercises exhaustive providence over the world, how can we talk about human free will? Normally Calvinism (since Calvin although you can trace the development of thought back to Aristotle) uses primary and secondary causation to explain how God rules. It works something like this, though this is greatly truncated: God will use secondary agents to cause his will. So he primarily moves secondary agents and accomplishes his purposes without being held responsible for doing the act directly.

When I explain this to students I teach, their reaction is almost always the same: "But that doesn't really explain anything or get God off the hook."This is unfortunate because I think Calvinism, as a whole, provides the best way of understanding the Bible. The problem is often how the discussion is framed.

Enter Providence Made Flesh: Divince Presence as a Framework for a Theology of Providence by Terry J. Wright. The title basically explains the premise. Wright believes a better model for understanding causation is Trinitarian presence.Wright is not trying to re-Wright (haha, see what I did there?) the book on providence. Rather, he is interested in demonstrating that "the doctrine of providence is demonstrated to concern the action of the triune God: The Father sends the Son to become incarnate and to act as God in the world; the Son obeys this calling within the freely accepted limitation that creaturely existence imposes; and the Spirit enables him continually to offer himself to the Father despite the temptation to reject his vocation." (222)

His goal is rather modest and he accomplishes what he sets out to do which is simply provide a slightly different framework from which we ought to think about providence. This is Wright's dissertation and I must be honest: it is pretty remarkable what he accomplishes. First, he explores the idea of secondary causation. In chapter two, he explores secondary causation in John Calvin. In chapter three, he explores how secondary causation actually shoves God out of the equation.

So basically the first quarter or so of the book is systematic theology. He then turns his attention to biblical theology and the action of the triune God. After outlining God's providence in both the Old and New Testament (borrowing heavily from G.K. Beale's temple theology), he goes on to exegete particular texts. So we have a work of philosophical, systematic, biblical and exegetical theology. This is a great work.

I will say, however, that Wright actually doesn't solve the issue of God's sovereignty and human free will. If you are looking for the magic bullet, it isn't here. There are still plenty of unanswered (and probably unanswerable) questions. All Wright is doing, again, is suggesting a better way to discuss God's providence. For that, I couldn't be happier! 

Be forewarned: since this is a dissertation, it maintains a fairly high level of technicality. A working knowledge of Greek and Hebrew would definitely help, especially in the later chapters. However, educated laity should have no problem tracking with the gist of what Wright is saying.

Overall, it is a great work. I look forward to seeing how Wright extends the scope of this work. It certainly provoked me to think in new ways about God's providence.

*Thanks to Wipf and Stock for the review copy!*