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Posts Tagged ‘theology’

What?  Did you think we forgot about this series?

J I Packer carries the theme of wisdom from Chapter 9 into Chapter 10 of his classic book, Knowing God.  Whereas Chapter 9 dealt more with God’s wisdom, Chapter 10 dives into how God grants wisdom to His people and what that wisdom looks like.  In fancy theological language, it looks at wisdom from the standpoint of one of God’s communicable attributes.

Packer gives two prerequisites for attaining wisdom (p101):

1. We must learn to reverence God.  “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 111:10, Prov 9:10)

2. We must learn to receive God’s word.  “Your command makes me wiser than my enemies… I have more insight than all my teachers for I meditate on your statutes” (Ps 119:98-99, see also Col 3:16, 2 Tim 3:15-17)

Of course, one wonders why Packer didn’t marshal James 1:5 in support, but his point is still well made.

What we learn from Ecclesiastes is that the difficult realities of life show us that we are not as wise as we thought:

…we feel sure that God has enabled us to understand all his ways with us and our circle thus far, and we take it for granted that we shall be able to see at once the reason for anything that may happen to us in the future. (p106)

For the truth is that God in his wisdom, to make and keep us humble and to teach us to walk by faith, has hidden from us almost everything that we should like to know about the providential purposes which he is working out in the churches and in our own lives. (p106)

Packer’s thoughts are good, as far as they go.  That is, I begged for more in this chapter that gives a positive look at wisdom.  I kept wanting to know, what does a wise person look like?  In my opinion, Ecclesiastes only gives one part of the biblical picture of wisdom.  It is mostly (though not entirely) a cautionary tale.  But something like the book of Proverbs, while echoing much of what is in Ecclesiastes, offers a broader picture of “our wisdom.”

That said, Packer is correct.  We often think we are wise, when in reality we show our ignorance in our inability to come to terms with our lack of understanding of God’s ways.  We demonstrate our wisdom by accepting that we cannot fully understand what God is doing in our world.  Those who refuse to admit otherwise betray their arrogance.

Packer ends with a helpful section entitled, “The Fruit of Wisdom” (p108).  And I leave you with his words, with one interjection of my own:

Thus, the kind of wisdom that God waits [fantastic word choice!] to give to those who ask him is a wisdom that will bind us to himself, a wisdom that will find expression in a spirit of faith and a life of faithfulness.

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Christ on Campus Initiative

Every once in a while I add a new link to the sidebar, but rarely post anything about it.  But I thought today I’d recommend a good resource, particularly geared toward those involved in university ministries.  I have actually known about it for a while, but I was reminded of it yesterday. 

It’s called the Christ on Campus Initiative.  Here is what their “About” page states:

The Christ on Campus Initiative (CCI) is a ministry of the Henry Center created for the purpose of preparing and circulating literature for college and university students, addressing an array of important intellectual and practical issues from an evangelical Christian perspective. The editorial team, led by D.A. Carson, commissions top evangelical scholars to oversee the creation and distribution of a variety of resources for university students. The goal of these resources is that they be intellectually rigorous, culturally relevant, persuasive in argument and faithful to historic, evangelical Christianity.

As for individual articles currently posted (I assume they’ll add more over time), there are a handful that stand out to me.  This doesn’t mean the others aren’t as good (I haven’t read them all), but I’m not as interested in human sexuality as some might be.  Here are links to the HTML version of the articles, you can always download the pdf files.

Cornelius Plantinga Jr- Sin: Not the Way It’s Supposed To Be (I’ve read his book by this same name, it’s outstanding)

William Lane Craig- Five Arguments for God

Graham Cole- Do Christians Have a Worldview?

Harold Netland- One Lord and Savior Over All? Jesus Christ and Religious Diversity

Craig Blomberg- Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him and Why It Matters

Anyway, check it out when you get a chance and let me know what you think.  I’m grateful that more and more evangelical scholars are willing to make their work available for free for the use of the church.

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Special thanks to Adam of Baker Publishing Group for a review copy of this book.

By now readers of this site should not need an introduction to D. A. Carson.  He’s about as prolific an author as there is in the world of biblical studies, as well as a high-demand speaker.  In fact, this book, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story, stems from a series of talks he gave at Bethlehem Baptist Church in February 2009 (The Gospel Coalition has generously posted the audio for free, as well as short video clips from each talk). 

I’m at a loss for how to categorize this book.  It is a work of theology, in that it’s subject is the God of the Bible.  It is a bit of a Bible introduction, for it is written with someone who has little-to-no knowledge of the Bible in mind.  It is evangelistic in nature, in that one of the target audiences of the book is the non-Christian (who ought to know, in Carson’s words, about the God in whom they disbelieve) and they are encouraged to find their place in God’s story (as the subtitle indicates).

The book itself is divided into 14 chapters weighing in at about 225 pages.  The chapter titles (e.g., The God Who Made Everything, The God Who Dies- And Lives Again) give the reader a clue about the content of each chapter.  Coming as no surprise to anyone who has read him, Carson handles each chapter with great care and clarity.  He anticipates questions and objections well and answers them, even if briefly.

This book is, as I said, a theology book, specifically theology proper (about God Himself).  But it is unlike many other theology books out there, or at least systematic theology.  First of all, Carson follows the basic story line of the Bible itself as his approach to teaching about the God of Scripture.  Thus, it is no surprise that his first chapter is on God as Creator and so on.  Carson does deal in terms of categories (Creator, Judge, etc) and characteristics (wrath, love, etc) like systematic theologies, but they rarely seek to follow the Bible metanarrative.  I, for one, much prefer Carson’s method.

Second, unlike most systematic theology, Carson’s work is text- and context-driven.  Each chapter focuses on a specific text, sometime multiple biblical chapters, and its context rather than prooftexting his way through a given topic.  That is not to say he never refers to other places in the Bible in a given chapter, but he only does so to make clear how it fits into the story of the Bible.

Overall, I think Carson does an admirable job explaining how God is portrayed in the Bible.  I appreciate that he did not shy away from the more difficult images of God used in the Bible, as many are prone to do, in order to make Him more palatable to our culture.  God is who He is, and Carson is content to let the Bible speak for itself.  He does attempt to answer some objections and common questions along the way, and occasionally suggests further reading (and more, I’m told, shows up in the Leader’s Guide- if I would have known there was one I would have asked for a review copy of that, too).

The God Who Is There is also, in some sense, an introduction to the Bible.  He explains very basic points (how many books are there, the original languages, etc) and when he refers, for instance, to Romans he explains it is the 6th book of the New Testament, coming after the Gospels and Acts.  I wouldn’t say this book should be used as an introduction to the Bible, as it is uneven.  For instance, it gives some quick guidance to reading certain books (such as the Wisdom books), but not most others.  This isn’t a knock on the book, since Carson’s goal was more to introduce the God of the Bible rather than the Bible.

Carson is a master expositor, and his skills shine throughout the book.  He seeks to explain the text, not just the original meaning but the implications for the reader.  He explains difficult concepts, draws out important points and shows how they fit in the Bible and what they reveal about God.  For a book written with a biblically illiterate audience in mind, Carson doesn’t mind digging to make his point.  I was humbled on more than one occasion by not noticing something in Scripture that I had read over many times before (like the echoes of Exodus 32-34 in John’s Prologue).

My only real complaint is that Carson is a bit weak on the prophets.  Given that Isaiah through Malachi makes up a dominant portion of Scripture, I would have liked to have seen more said about them.  I made this same critique of an otherwise wonderful OT introduction, so I’m starting to wonder if scholars just aren’t sure what to say about the prophetical books in their lay-level writings.

Like I said above, Carson’s book is partially evangelistic.  It is not, as you can probably guess by now, evangelistic in the same way the 4 Spiritual Laws are evangelistic, or even the “Romans Road.”  It is evangelistic in that it seeks to tell the reader, who may not be a Christian at all, about God.  Carson tries, as much as is humanly possible, to capture the essence of the God who created and sustained all things and who has revealed Himself throughout history, especially in the pages of the Bible.

But more importantly, Carson seeks to show how the revelation of God is most supremely seen in the person of Jesus.  It is Jesus, God incarnate, who died on a Roman cross and rose again 3 days later, who is the centerpiece of the faith.  The gospel is not a cool story for children’s book, or a doctrinal point to check off.  It is the message of Jesus- His life, His work and His return- that the reader is encouraged on these pages to meet. 

I should note that this is probably one of the more intellectually engaging attempts at evangelism out there (aside from the debate circuit).  Whoever gives this book to an interested friend, or leads a small group based on this book, ought to expect many questions along the way.  But if you have friends who are genuinely interested in knowing more about the Bible, and even more so about the God of the Bible, then Carson is probably the best pick around.  And the truth is, plenty of Christians desperately need to read this book as well, and learn more about the God we worship.

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In the comments of a previous post, Marcus asked what books I’m using in my study of Ezekiel.  For those who know me, it doesn’t take much to get me talking about books, especially commentaries.  But I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to stress how I use commentaries and other resources in the process of studying a book of the Bible.  Obviously commentaries serve well as resevoirs for “quick answers,” but are even better used over a long period of study.

I want to put all of this in context.  Sometime in the fall, I decided to embark on a prolonged study in the Book of Ezekiel.  I picked Ezekiel for a few reasons: of the major prophets, it’s the one I know the least; I’ve often found it confusing; I wanted to justify my purchase of Daniel Block’s two volume commentary; and Ian Boxall’s commentary on Revelation convinced me that Ezekiel was important to John’s Revelation. 

So here are the steps I am taking in my study of Ezekiel.  Mind you, I’m actually only 7 chapters in; I’m moving intentionally slow (and I took a bit of a break when my computer died).  I also don’t want to give the impression that I really think of studying the Bible in a mechanical, step-by-step process.  The crucial thing about these steps is that I never jump forward, but I may move backward.  That is, just because I move on to a new step doesn’t mean I won’t go back and redo a previous one.  But I try not to get ahead in the process, for reasons I’ll explain as I go. 

The one step I’m leaving out of the list is actually the most important.  I pray a lot as I’m studying, through every step.  Not only do I pray the words of Scripture (which can be difficult in a book like Ezekiel), but I pray that the Spirit of God give me wisdom as I go.  If, after all, He inspired the book, I’d rather seek His insight than anyone else’s.

Read the Text

Sounds obvious, huh?  It doesn’t get any more basic and necessary than this.  I try to read the entire book every now and then.  I read large sections at a time, then narrow down to smaller sections as I see them (chapter divisions in Ezekiel are generally pretty good, though chapters can be grouped together, more on that in a second).  I’ve been using the TNIV, though when I start to look at smaller chunks of verses, I compare other translations.  For this study, I’ve opted not to do my own translation work, or at least not the entire book.  I’ve done that before for other books, and will continue to do so.  But, honestly, it would take me far too long to study Ezekiel if I tried to translate the entire thing. 

Break Off Natural Sections

As I noted above, chapters can be grouped together to form units.  For instance, chapters 1-3 go together, with chapter 1 and chapters 2-3 forming subunits.  Chapters 8-11 all go together.  And so on.  This is something I may adjust as I spend more time in the text, if needed.  These sections are the ones I study, so on my computer, there are separate documents for Ezekiel 1-3, 4-7 (4-5 & 6-7 go together), 8-11, etc.

Make a Rough Outline

My outlines are never super detailed, just enough to give me an idea of the flow of a passage.  When I broke down the vision of chapter 1 into 3 main parts (Vision of the 4 Living Creatures vv4-14, Vision of the 4 Wheels vv15-21, Vision of the Glory of YHWH vv22-28), it helped me make sense of what was otherwise a mess in my mind.  Again, I’m always willing to correct this outline, but I find it a good place to start.

Taking Notes & Asking Questions

Using my outline, I begin to take notes on what I think is important.  For example, in chapters 2-3 there is some ambuguity as to the identity of ruach, which can mean breath, wind or S/spirit.  I look at the text and come up with my own thoughts, and try to see if there is anything significant to it.  I note repeated phrases, of which there are many in Ezekiel (e.g., “then they will know that I am YHWH”).  I also write out any questions I have that I may not be able to answer myself, or that I’m unsure of the answer.  I was a bit confused by the 390 and 40 day periods in Ezekiel 4, so I made a note to check it out when I hit the commentaries (again, after I tried to come up with possible answers myself).  This step can take quite a while.

Theological Reflection

After I do the above (which would be termed “exegesis”), I begin writing out some of my thoughts on what the text teaches about God.  There may be a particular phrase that sticks out, an important action, etc.  I’m already thinking about this stuff as I’m taking notes, but now I spend more time thinking on it.  This is important for two reasons: the Bible teaches us about God (duh) and, in my opinion, the theology of the text is the key to hermeneutics.  In other words, if I can determine what a passage is teaching about the unchanging God, I will have a much better shot at faithfully applying a text that is written in a foreign language, to a foreign people living in a foreign world.

Application Ideas

This is where I write out some thoughts on how a text might be preached or taught.  I’m consistently going back to this, sometimes weeks after I’ve finished a section.  This area is a struggle, especially on the personal level, because I seek to apply it to my life before I go tell anyone else how they should live.  The first 3 chapters of Ezekiel really kicked my butt.  I was so powerfully struck by the immensity of what Ezekiel experienced, I couldn’t get it off my mind.  I remember going out for a run (don’t laugh) and realizing that I had actually been walking around aimlessly for 30 minutes, thinking about Ezekiel’s call.  Needless to say, I’ve had the tendency to become consumed with the book. 

Anyway, all that to say, applying a text is much harder than many assume, which is probably why Ezekiel doesn’t get preached on very often (unless you opt for “what’s the vision by the Kebar River in your life?”).   Maybe somewhere down the road I’ll dive into this even more, but this is already getting long enough.

Using Outside Resources

You’ll notice that this is the last item on this list (yes, we’re at the end).  When I was in school, I would always try to do my own exegetical work before I looked at anything else.  I would translate, diagram, work on syntax, etc, without looking at BibleWorks (only cheaters use it) or commentaries (or at least I tried, sometimes I’d get stuck and look something up, only to realize I probably could have figured it out myself).  In my experience, commentaries work best when you have already thought through a text yourself and are looking for specific insights.  Very few commentaries are so well written that you can just pick them up and start reading, gaining incredible wisdom.  Doing that virtually guarantees you’ll learn next-to-nothing.  But if you know what you’re looking for when you start, you’ll glean much that is useful.  I also check out a few other resources, which I’ll give below.

Commentaries

The two Ezekiel commentaries that I am using are Daniel Block’s previously mentioned two volume commentary in the NICOT series and Iain Duguid’s volume in the NIV Application series.  Both are outstanding.  I was already familiar with Block’s, and had heard good things about Duguid’s.  I have to be honest, I was skeptical at first, but am now a huge fan (so is my wife, for what it’s worth).  Although his space is limited, especially in comparison to the ginormous Block, he makes the most out of it, even including things missed by Block.  Once in a while his practical insights are a bit of a stretch, but I think they’re designed to get the reader thinking rather than suggesting sermon bullet points.  If you can’t afford Block, then I strongly recommend Duguid.  Even if you can afford Block, I’d strongly recommend Duguid.

Block has pretty much everything you’d want in a commentary.  He doesn’t just comment on the text, he interacts well with other writers, brings in helpful historical background and, best of all, takes time to discuss the theological implications of the text.  This commentary is worth the hype.

I also own John Taylor’s commentary in the Tyndale series, but haven’t looked at it much.  I go back and look through it every so often, but there’s little in there that isn’t already covered by the other two.  My wife was using this one until I got Duguid for Christmas.  If I were living near a library that carried commentaries, I’d probably look at Allen, Zimmerli and Greenberg, but I don’t so I don’t.

Other Books

Every so often I consult a book that isn’t a commentary.  I would probably take a look at an OT introduction if I liked any.  I’ve poked around Bruce Waltke’s OT Theology to see what he says about Ezekiel, but for the most part, I stick to the commentaries. 

Online Classes

Another helpful resource is BiblicalTraining.org, which we’ve plugged multiple times.  Douglas Stuart has a lecture on Ezekiel, but it’s only 19 minutes, which is too short for anything more than a basic orientation.  On iTunesU, there is an entire prophets class for free taught by John Goldingay at Fuller Seminary.  His lecture on Ezekiel comes in close to 80 minutes, so naturally he covers more ground than Stuart.  Goldingay is left of where I am, but often has much that is helpful.

Sermons

I’ve mentioned before that Ezekiel is rarely preached on, at least in my circles.  I’ve found a few online; you can check out The Gospel Coaliton site for some examples.  Like commentaries, I won’t listen to anything until I’m done doing my own work.

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So there you have it, far more than you ever wanted to know about my process of studying a book of the Bible.  This process is always subject to revision, so if you have anything to add, I’d be happy to hear it out.  Let me end with this:

The more time I spend in Scripture, the more amazed I am at the treasures contained within.  I’ve spent years now studying the Word (and I have the school debt to prove it!), but on a consistent basis I find myself feeling like a novice.  It’s humbling to jump back on the bunny slopes, but humility’s definitely a good thing.  I had no idea Ezekiel, the book and the prophet, could be so compelling, challenging and God-exalting.  Lord help me (literally) if I ever lose the excitement I feel today.

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Tim Keller on The Shack

I encourage you to read this brief, but insightful, look at The Shack written by Tim Keller.  Here’s a taste:

Many have gotten involved in debates about Young’s theological beliefs, and I have my own strong concerns. But here is my main problem with the book. Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible.

Check out the whole thing.

You can also check out Brian’s thoughts on The Shack here: Part 1 and Part 2.

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How have you responded to past failures?  Heartbreaks?  Missed opportunities?  Perhaps, like me, you typically sigh, shurg your shoulders and dole out a theological crumb or two: “Well, I guess God doesn’t have that for me”, “I guess it wasn’t His will”,  “I don’t understand this, but God is good, right?”  While the theology of these statements may be good enough, according to Packer, the attitude with which they are often spoken evidences a deficient knowledge of God.   We focus on our past hurts, and respond to them with “dried up stoicism.”  We carry our hurts as “crosses” to bear, and the “unspeakable joy” of knowing God is nowhere to be found.  As Packer says,

These private mock heroics have no place at all in the minds of those who really know God.  They never brood on might-have-beens; they never think of the things they have missed, only of what they have gained.

Packer points to Paul, who considers “everything a loss” when compared to knowing Christ.  He considers everything else rubbish in light of what he’s gained in knowing God through Christ (Phil. 3:7-10).  The glory of knowing God trumps everything, such that any failure (or success) and hurt (or pleasure) pales in comparisson.

What characterizes the people who truly know God?  Packer suggests four traits.  Those who know God: (1) have great energy for God, (2) have great thoughts of God, (3) show great boldness for God, and (4) have great contentment in God.

Speaking personally, Packer’s analysis here cuts deep.  I am particularly convicted by his fourth characteristic of contentment in God.  Herein lies the “joy” in the midst of hardship; though the world may all but kill us, we rest in joyful contentment with our God.  I believe one of the roots of our discontent is that, whether we realize it or not, we have subscribed to the notion that there is always something better out there, be it a better body, better car, better sex, better iPod, better job, better church, better food, or better friends.  Multi-billion dollar marketing machinery strives each day to create and exploit this discontent, from which the only ostensible escape is the proffered product, be it an idea or automobile.

My analysis is as trite as it is obvious, but we cannot deny that the cacaphony of voices which bombard our senses each day easily cloud the fact that there is a greatest good, a One who knows no close rival, no better, and no equal.  When we truly get our arms around the fact that God Himself is the greatest good in every category - and actually believe it – real contentment must follow.  This contentment transcends every circumstance, because the source of our contentment transcends all circumstance.  Our contentment meets our every need, because everything we need is rooted in God.

Loose your job?  Your friends?  Your reputation?  Your health?  In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter, because you have something far superior in every way:  A relationship with the one and only God.  By comparison, as Paul says, everything else is refuse.  This is why Jesus can say that anyone who does not hate is family – even his own life – cannot be His disciple (Lk. 14:26).  The statement is jarring, but the premise is true:  We’re built to love and cherish our relationship with God to such a degree that all else seems as nothing (i.e., hatred).  Therein do we find lasting, unshakable contentment.

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Many thanks again to Connie at Crossway Books for this review copy.  Continued apologies to Connie and Danny that this is long overdue.

For this portion of my review of William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith, I will focus on the topic to which Craig devotes his largest section:  De Deo.  (You can find my introduction comments here, and part 1 of my review here.)  These 100+ pages Craig devotes to the existence of God contain the 14 figures in Craig’s text, the Cyclic Ekpyrotic Scenario inclusive.  In my opinion, these chapters, while still full of useful information, are among the most difficult to read.  I can easily envision a reader getting stuck here, and putting the book down for, let’s say, a year or so.  Said reader would be especially susceptible to this if he or she were easily seduced by other books. Ahem.  Moving on.

Craig divides De Deo into two sections.  The first opens up with a brief history of the four major arguments for God’s existence that he addresses:  The ontological argument, the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, and the moral argument.  The remainder of the first sections addresses the cosmological argument in two forms: that proposed by Leibnitz, and the Kalam cosmological argument.  As the cosmological argument his admitted favorite (p.194), it is no real surprise that he spends 50 pages discussing it (c.f., 10 pages on the moral argument, and this despite the fact that in his experience the moral argument is most effective when witnessing to others, p.194).

Around seventy percent of his section on the cosmological argument are arguably introductory texts in cosmology, as Craig labors to show that the universe began to exist.  While critical to the cosmological argument, in my opinion, Craig’s text dives too deeply into the mind-bending waters of multiverses, black holes, and other areas of physics, to actually edify his intended audience (a seminary level apologetics class, p.12).  Instead, I would guess that most would walk away just taking his word for it.  I consider myself fairly comfortable with the sciences, having two technical degrees that both required a good deal of mathematics, chemistry and physics, but through most of this chapter, I was…(wait for it)…lost in space.

Physics and astronomy aside, there is much to commend Craig’s treatment of the existence of God.  For example, in Craig’s discussion on the nature of the first cause (i.e., Kalam Cosmological argument), he explores the high probability that the cause is personal (pp.152-154).  His treatment is highly edifying, and in my opinion a much needed addendum to the many of the arguments for God, since some of them leave room for an impersonal god, or creative force.

I was also impressed by Craig’s closing section of practical applications (pp.189-196).  Consider the following:

What we aspire to show is that atheism is false, not that it is irrational for anybody to hold.  We do that by presenting good arguments for theism.  Remember:  persons are rational; arguments are sound.  We’re interested in whether there are sound arguments for God’s existence based on premises which are more plausible than their denials.  We don’t need to make a personal judgment on the rationality or irrationality of non-theists.

This quote typifies Craig’s ability to keep the reader’s eye on the ball, as it were, and his text is rife with paragraphs reminding us of what we are, and are not trying to prove or do.  Anybody who has engaged in a conversation with a non-theist has experienced the tendency to drift from the matter at hand, engaging in goose chases that only distract from the original point.  In his book, and on his website, Craig exemplifies the ability to keep a focus on issues (i.e., not people), and avoid the quasi-related (if at all) peripheral concepts that can easily blow up a conversation.

While not a slam dunk, De Deo is ultimately worth the effort.  Though some of the text may be outside of my grasp, as Craig himself states, “In order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn’t be able to explain the explanation” (p. 171).

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Knowing God: The Study of God

Why study theology?  Why spend hours praying over biblical texts?  What are we hoping will happen to us when we study who God is and learn His character?

Knowing GodChapter 1 of J I Packer’s Knowing God helps direct us in our pursuit of knowing God.  He starts the chapter with a quote from Spurgeon.  Spurgeon notes that the study of God ought to do three things: humble the mind, expand the mind and console.  The more we learn about God, the more we ought to realize our limitations and finiteness.  The effect ought to be humbling.  Our minds will also find themselves expanding as we try to comprehend the God who created and sustains the entire universe.  Finally, the problems and grieves of the soul will find their comfort and consolation in God Himself.

What do we do about the problem of arrogance?  After all, many of us know people whose study of God simply fed their intellectual pride.  It’s not hard to see examples of this in the church, though I’ll point out seminary students and professors aren’t the only ones prone to this- I’ve met plenty of Christians who have no desire to study theology who are just as guilty of immense spiritual pride (indeed, the fact they don’t feel the need to study the Bible at all may be a sign of that pride).

Packer is well aware of the potential for this problem (pp21-22).

For the fact that we have to face is this: If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us.  It will make us proud and conceited…  To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception.

Packer’s remedy:  “Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know himself better…  As he is the subject of our study, and our helper in it, so he must himself be the end of it” (p23).

Ultimately, our motivation will dictact what we get out of our study of God.  If our motive is get smarter, we’ll achieve that- and a healthy dose of arrogance on the side.  We will deceive ourselves into thinking that we actually do know God, when in reality all we know is stuff about God.  If our motive is truly to know God, he will be faithful to reveal himself.  After all, his desire is to make himself known.  And when he does, we can revisit Spurgeon’s points above and discover for ourselves just how right he was.

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One of the highlights of the fall for me is rereading J I Packer’s classic book, Knowing God.  We read it every year in our discipleship and missions training school, and for good reason.  If you’re impressed with quantity, the book has sold over 1 million copies.  At the very least this attests to the fact that many people have found this book useful in their Christian growth.

But some of Knowing Godus are less enamored with numbers than others are.  After all, there are number of bestselling books that quite frankly aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, though I’m not naming any names (coughdanbrowncough).  Books are popular for any number of reasons: celebrity authors, Oprah’s Bookclub, clever marketing, and so on.  None of these necessarily speak to the quality of the book, and in some cases it may speak negatively.  And even the perceived usefulness of a book noted above is no true indication of its merit- see: Joel Osteen books, high sales totals of (I’m not doing a good job of not naming names, am I?).

There are other bestsellers that top the charts because they are simply wicked good.  It is our contention that Packer’s Knowing God is that kind of book, though I’m not sure he’d understand or appreciate the term “wicked good.”  Brian and I have decided that we’d like to blog through this modern day Christian classic, one chapter per week.  I first read Packer’s book in David Wells‘ Systematic Theology class.  It ended up being my favorite theology book of all the ones I read in seminary, in large part because it captures the “why” of studying theology and knowing God so well.  Knowing God is no mere intellectual exercise.  Packer’s concern is that we truly know God, not just know about Him and about His book.  And in knowing God, the life of the Christian and the church will be forever changed.

So we hope you’ll join us in our quest over the coming weeks and months.   We invite you to read along with us and offer your thoughts along the way.  If you do not own a copy, get one.  Beg and borrow if you must, even contemplate stealing, though don’t act on it.  However you get the book, read it, digest it and participate in our discussions.  Hopefully we’ll all come away knowing the God we worship all the more.

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Many, many thanks to Connie at Crossway Books for this review copy.  Thanks and apologies to Connie and Danny that it’s taken me a year to get around to a review of this book, a delinquency for which I have no good excuse, save several weak ones that perhaps taken together…

 I am as intimidated as I am happy at the chance to review William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith, which Craig himself supposes to be his “signature book” (p.11).  I have already commented on the excellent introduction to this book here, and would commend it to anyone who would question prima facie the merit Christian apologetics.

The purpose of the book, Craig states, is to focus primarily on the theoretical issues of Christian apologetics, as opposed to offering a manual of “how to’s” (p.23).  Pragmatists (among whom I count myself) needn’t worry, however.  While Craig does indeed focus on theory, he touches down often enough to help the reader apply what has been discussed.  That said, make no mistake that this is not a light read.  This is a book for study and careful reflection, not a cozy morning on the porch.  Consider, for example, some titles taken from the table of figures (p.9):  “Cyclic Ekpyrotic Scenario,” “Oscillating Model with entropy increase,” and “Bubbles of true vacuum in a sea of false vacuum.” 

Craig is very thorough, and very technical, but the diligent reader needn’t worry; let not the titles above scare you away.  Like many (most?) matters in study, the reward you will reap from careful reading of this book is well worth a few trips to the dictionary, or re-reads of a paragraph.  To be fair, I should also mention that text isn’t all cyclic ekpyrotic scenarios, either, and Craig often explains the terms he uses in the lucid, frank prose that makes him one of my favorite apologists.  At the very worst, while you not come away being able to describe why the cyclic ekpyrotic scenario fails to explain the universe, should you find yourself witnessing to an astrophysicist who has interest in such matters, boy do you have the book for him!

Craig’s book is broken down into five major sections, an arrangement inspired by some of the principal themes of post-Reformation Protestant theology:  faith, man, God, creation and Christ (or de fide, de homine, de Deo, de creatione, and de Christo, as Craig titles them, much to the pleasure of my nerdliness).  I shall break down this review roughly along these lines, so as to keep each post managable.

Each section begins with a historical background viz., how have other thinkers addressed this issue?  These are immesely helpful, and well-written.  They also do well to remind us, in the tradition of Isaac Newton, that we stand on the shoulders of thousands upon thousands of great minds.  Craig’s development is chronological, and lays the groundwork for his own, present day “assessment,” which follows.

In De Fide, Craig makes an important distinction:  There is a difference between knowing the Christian faith to be true and showing the Christian faith to be true.  He goes on to explore both of these topics at length, fleshing out the details of each.  For Craig, the heart of knowing Christianity to be true is the work of Holy Spirit testifying that it is true (e.g., pp. 43, 46).  Craig’s support for this is a perfect blend of  copious  Scriptural support (e.g., 1 Jn. 3:24; 4:13) and well-reasoned arguments.  This mixture is seasoned with rebuttals to common objections.

Consider, for example, Craig’s response to the “objection” that some neuro-scientists can artifically stimulate certain areas of the brain to induce “religious experiences.”   A believer’s experience of the witness of the Holy Spirit, then, is not a function of the Holy Spirit so much as a physiological phenomenon.  It follows, that we ought not to trust this “sense.”  Craig notes, however, that other senses, such as hearing and vision, are clearly associated with certain parts of the brain, and they are also manipulable to induce sounds and sights that do not truly exist.  Do we therefore dismiss our vision and hearing as unreliable?  (p.50)  Even more, that there is an area of the brain associated with religious experience could actually be taken to testify that God made us that way.

De Homine, which is easily my favorite chapter, examines “the Absurdity of Life without God.”  I’ve lightly touched on this issue before, but Craig dives in with a full bore, exploring “the disastrous consequences for human existence, society, and culture if Christianity should be false” (p.65).  Put simply, this is the best chapter I’ve ever read on the topic.  Craig holds no punches, and explicitly spells out exactly how hopeless, meaningless and, well, absurd, human life is without God.  This of course does not prove that there is a God, but it does show the inconsistency of a happy atheist.  Frequent quotes of popular atheists often make Craig’s point for him, such as his embarassment of Richard Dawkins on pp.80-81.  (N.b., This is not the only time Craig makes Dawkins look like a hack; the interested reader could also consult reviews of Dawkins’ work by Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton or Christian philospher Alvin Plantinga).

My review is a scant 90 pages into this 400+ page book, but in my opinion, it is already well worth the price of admission.  In part 2, I will tackle the two lengthy chapters that comprise De Deo.  I promise that it will take less than one year for me to do so.

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