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Archive for September, 2008

Thanks again to Chris at Zondervan for a review copy of this book.

 

Sorry for 2 book review posts today, but I wanted to get part 1 of my review on this blog rather than referring you back to my old one.  I promise I’ll never do it again (yes, I am employing the universal promise-negation tactic of crossing my fingers).

 



I intended to use this part of my review of Waltke’s OT Theology to review his sections on Genesis, but realized how long it would end up being.  (Actually, I’m beginning to realize just how many reviews it will take to work through this book; a change of plans may be in order).  So, I’ll give some thoughts on chapters 7-11, which leads us up through the story of Noah.

 

His thoughts on the creation narrative were helpful, arguing that Genesis 1 is in fact history, but neither “straightforward history” nor science.  What is most important is what the biblical account teaches us about God as Creator.  “As the Creator of the cosmos, he [God] triumphed in the past, as Creator of history he triumphs in the present, and as Creator of the new heavens and new earth, when the creation theme peaks, he will be triumphant in the future” (p203).

 

I found his discussion of the “us” in Gen 1:26 to be fascinating.  Against the common Christian interpretation that “us” is referring to the Trinity, or even the less common “self-deliberative plural”, he takes it to refer to the “heavenly court”, that is, angels.  Two points from his argument revolve around the issue of the Hebrew word elohim, which is actually in the plural form.  He argues that in Genesis 3 the word is not used to refer to God, but rather heavenly or divine beings.  He notes that elohim is elsewhere used as “divine beings” rather than “God” (1 Sam 28:13).  Also (not to get to technical), “you will be like elohim, knowing good and evil” (3:5) uses a plural participle rather than a singular modifier (which is what’s used when elohim is referring to God rather than a plural group); the same wording occurs in 3:22.  There’s more to the argument, but suffice to say that I’m intrigued by his suggestion, granting that it may have the best support in context.  The big question I’d ask in response is whether it is said that the angels are also created in God’s image and is it fair to read between the lines and come up with a strong “heavenly court” concept. 

 

I appreciate that Waltke carried the story of the Garden into Genesis 4, where we see the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin.  Here we see that the situation is worsening as they leave the garden, yet this story “assures us that I AM accompanies Adam and Eve and their family outside the garden (“I AM looked with favor on Abel and his offering,” v. 4) and superintends the giving of the seed of the Serpent and of the woman (“God has granted me another child in place of Abel,” 4:25) (p269).

 

Waltke follows Warren Gage in noting the parallels between Adam and the creation story and Noah and the “new creation” story.  I never realized how many lexical similarities there are between the two stories; there are enough that it’s hard to argue against the intentionality of the parallels.

 

There are a couple relatively minor problems, as I see them, with these chapters.  I was a little disappointed not to have a fuller treatment of the theology in the creation story and the flood narrative as compared to the similar stories in ancient Near Eastern literature.  To be sure, he discusses these, but I feel like there’s so much more to mine in this area.  When you compare the non-biblical accounts with the biblical ones, you can grasp the picture of God that the original audience would have been taught in contrast to their pagan neighbors (this is part of the role of exegesis, after all).  On this, I’d recommend Victor Hamilton’s treatment in his Handbook on the Pentateuch. 

 

On pages 273-275, Waltke discusses the popular Christian position that Satan is a fallen angel.  I remain unconvinced of this (though I’m willing to be).  Surprisingly, while rejecting (correctly, in my opinion) the interpretation of Isaiah 14 that says the Babylonian ruler mentioned there is actually Satan, he argues that the “King of Tyre” in Ezekiel 28 does refer to Satan.  On the grounds of context and genre, I see no reason to read this chapter as anything but what it says it is: a prophecy against the King of Tyre.  After all, it occurs in the middle of a collection of prophecies against various nations and evil rulers (context).  And, it’s poetry- it uses metaphorical and lofty language to make a point (genre). 

 

In all, these chapters were helpful.  His exegetical treatments of the biblical writings are superb, even if space limitations leave you wanting more (of course, I could solve that problem by purchasing his Genesis Commentary.  Like a good biblical theologian, Waltke tries to draw out how biblical writers use these stories and develop them.  Subsequent reviews will deal with this more, for now it’ll have to suffice to say that I am finding this book a profitable read.

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This review originally appeared at my old blog on 7/24/08Thanks to Chris at Zondervan for the review copy of this book.

Bruce Waltke’s book, An Old Testament Theology is a massive undertaking, not just for the author, but also for the reader. Reading it is a commitment of time and energy, physical (at least when you’re sick like I am right now), mental and spiritual. But it’s a rewarding experience, as you feel like you understand the Old Testament, and God as revealed in the Old Testament, even better.

Because of its size and quality, I’ve opted to review and interact with this book over a longer period of time than the normal book review. I’ll actually skip most of what he has to say about methodology, not because it’s unimportant or boring (it is neither of those things), but quite frankly, something has to get cut.

Waltke has divided his book into “blocks” of OT literature: “Primary History”, dealing with the Pentateuch and Historical Narratives, and “Other Writings”, with the Prophets, Psalms and Wisdom Literature falling into this category. Oddly enough, he opts to leave Song of Songs out of his analysis in this book. This strikes me as a bit arbitrary, though I realize that it is not a theologically heavy book. But granting that, doesn’t it say something about who God is, even if indirectly?

For Waltke, the theological center of the OT is the “irruption (breaking-in) of the Kingship of God.” The continuing story of how God (Waltke uniquely refers to God as “I AM” throughout the book) brings His kingdom to earth is the story that drives the Old Testament, and continues right on into the New Testament (“All the previous irruptions of the kingdom of God were but a shadow of its appearing in Jesus Christ”, p145). “To put it another way, the Bible is about God bringing glory upon himself by restoring Paradise after humanity lost it through a loss of faith in God that led to rebellion against his rule” (p144).

I found it refreshing, though, that he doesn’t try to cram all theological statements from each book into this category. “To systematize, however, all the biblical materials to the procrustean bed of this message, would falsify their intention. The proposed center accommodates the whole, but the whole is not systematically structured according to it. A cross-section approach to develop that message through various stages in Israel’s history would not do justice to the rich biblical material” (p144). The idea is that the kingdom of God is the central theme of the OT, but the goal is to show the message of each book, even the parts that don’t fit under this theme perfectly.

Chapter 6, entitled “The Bible’s Center: An Overview”, is worth slowly reading and digesting. Honestly, it’d be great for anyone looking for a relatively short overview of the Old Testament teachings on the kingdom of God (it comprises pages 143-169 of the book). One of the strengths of this chapter is showing how narratives are linked by related concepts. For instance, in the history of Israel, we see how God creates a people, giving them the law, providing them with the land and a king to rule over them. However, Israel rebels, which causes God to punish their sin by forcing them into exile, yet leaves them with the hope of restoration.

We see the same pattern in the Garden of Eden. “God also creates a people (Adam and Eve), gives them a garden as the land to sustain and refresh them, hands down the law not to eat the forbidden fruit, and makes them kings to keep his garden. But they rebel against God and disobey him, and as a result, they are banished from the garden, exiled from their home. Yet in the punishment comes a promise and a hope; a ‘seed of the woman’ will triumph over the Serpent on humanity’s behalf” (p150, all italics are original).

Thus, in the Garden story and in Israel’s history, we see the need for the irruption of God’s kingdom (man’s sin has marred creation, Israel’s sin has left them in exile) and receive a glimpse of how the irruption of God’s kingdom will happen (through the “Seed”, through the King or “son of David”).

So, I’ll be posting thoughts as I go through the book and show how Waltke develops this theme of the irruption of God’s kingdom throughout his book. My intention is that the nature of the posts will vary. Sometimes I’ll simply report what he says that I find particularly helpful or interesting. Other times, I may interact with what he says, perhaps even daring to disagree on occasion. I hope you’ll find learning from Waltke vicariously through me to be a rewarding experience, and may you even be encouraged to purchase the book for yourself.

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One of the first courses I downloaded from biblicaltraining.org was the late Dr. Ron Nash’s foundations lecture, History of Philosophy. The series consists of seven lectures of about 30 minutes each.  The course is very much introductory, and decidely limited in scope.  However, please do not take this as a negative comment. This series is a great appetizer, as it were, for further study on these important topics. To that end, Dr. Nash frequently plugs his book Life’s Ultimate Questions, and the longer, similarly-titled lecture series offered in the “Leadership” section of biblicaltraining.org.

I once heard a preacher joke that philosophers seek to answer all the questions that nobody really asks. To wit: When did you last wonder how you know what you know? For most people, the answer is “never.” However, the philisophical topic of epistemology is very much conerned with this question. Why does this matter? In his first lecture, and in the lectures that follow, Nash fleshes out some of the practical implications of such topics.  Have you ever heard somebody say that they don’t believe in God because there is no way to prove He exists? What is at stake here is fundamentally a question of (drum roll) epistemology: How do we know?  The person demanding proof of God’s existence is also making a statement about their worldview: They believe the only way one can know anything is through proof.  Nash notes that this worldview, however, is self-defeating.  Why?  Because it cannot stand up to its own terms.  Namely, you cannot prove that the only way to know something is by proving it.

I would commend the class to anybody looking to whet their appetite for philosophy, theology and apologetics.  Understanding the basic components of a worldview, and thinking through the resulting implications, can be a powerful witness to unbelievers, and often a much needed corrective to our own views.  Nash is an easy listen, and does well to keep the technical jargon to a minimum, and well-explained when necessary.  At the very, very worst, you’ll be a hit at parties when you squeeze the word “epistemology” into a casual conversation.  And by “hit” I mean “geek.”  Welcome to our world.

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I’d like to venture out of my comfort zone of book geekery for a moment to review a worship album released last year by Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.  Though I love music, I don’t know much about the intricacies; I don’t recognize many of the important things the trained ear will notice (Brian is the trained musician of BBG), nor am I really a great judge of poetical quality, though I’d like to think I know a bit more about that.  My friend A-Rock reviews music for PopMatters, and he uses words like “sublime” or “transcendent”, whereas I’m more prone to use “cool” or “wicked awesome.”  Alas, here we go.

 

I ventured upon Sojourn’s album, Before the Throne, earlier this year and have joyfully  weaved it into my regular rotation of worship.  The album consists of 10 songs written by Sojourn members, and 1 great hymn, “Before the Throne of God Above”.  While much of modern worship would probably be classified as “pop” musically, this album has a rootsy-folk feel, incorporating other styles such as a little rock (“My Maker and My King”) and a jazzy Norah Jones-esque tune (“I’m Coming Back”). 

 

There are two things that set this album apart from most of what I’ve heard in recent years.  First, the lyrical quality is very high, and not just the hymn.  “In the Shadow of Your Glorious Cross” is the kind of song that can excite even the most ardent hymnophile, including yours truly.  “I’m Coming Back” and “All I Have Is Yours” are two fabulous tracks, as are “Lead Us Back” and “There Is a Peace.”  You can check out the lyrics on the Before the Throne Page.

 

Second, I noticed that this album incorporates a number of themes, only to find out later that Sojourn intentionally used a liturgical format for this album (see the comments here).  Thus, it incorporates lament & confession (“Lead Us Back”, which I’ve written about on my previous blog), a communion tune (“All I Have Is Yours”), a benediction (“All Good Gifts”), etc.  You don’t have to be aware of this to enjoy it, but it helped me appreciate all the more how much thought went into this album.  With so many albums these days feeling like a collection of disconnected radio-friendly singles, I feel like this is the kind of album that could benefit a church seeking to have a well-rounded repertoire of worship songs. 

 

As for critiques, I suppose the one thing I can think of is that a couple of the songs seem like they’d be difficult for congregational singing (“My Maker and My King” and “Evergreen”), though I’ve been wrong about that in the past.

 

I couldn’t recommend this album highly enough.  The songs “In the Shadow of Your Glorious Cross” and “Lead Us Back” are #s 1 and 2 Most Played on my iTunes, and their version of “Before the Throne of God Above” is my favorite of recent renditions.  And in an age of celebrity worship leaders, who go on tours with laser light shows and smoke machines, I’m excited to see a church taking the time to write songs for their community.  You can download the entire album (11 songs) from iTunes for $9.99, but if you want to try it out, check out their Before the Throne Page and download the 4 songs they offer for free (I noticed that I can’t download them on my wife’s Mac, though that may be due to my technological incompetence).  While you’re there, check out the other albums they have (many more free songs!), as well as their terrific blog.  For anyone who leads worship, either in a church service or in smaller groups, their website will be an excellent resource (hence its inclusion in our “Worship” links to the right).  And for those of us who don’t lead worship, you just might learn something too.

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Despite what Danny may have lead you to believe, I am not reading “Goodnight Moon.”  Perhaps that’s misleading.  I am not reading “Goodnight Moon” exclusively.  I recently picked up the third edition of William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith.  Craig is a celebrated Christian apologist, and (insofar as I can tell), the most intelligent person presently on this earth.  I look forward to writing a review for this book, which he describes as a foundational text for his many writings.

While the full book review is pending, I wanted to spend some time interacting with Craig’s introduction in Reasonable Faith.  Of particular interest to me was his claim that apologetics is a vital part of evangelism.  More specifically, he solidly rebukes the dismissive attitude many Christians have towards apologetics because “you can’t argue someone over to Christ.”  I’ll save Craig’s specific responses to this sentiment for my review, but I did want to offer up a few thoughts of my own on the topic.

I taught a class on evangelism some years ago, and I remeber making the very statement: “You can’t argue someone over to Christ.”  Even a year ago, I was exchanging several e-mails with an atheist, and made a similar statement to him up front:  I’d love to debate with you, but I have no expectation that you’ll become a Christian as a result.  Why did I think this?  Because “you can’t argue someone over to Christ.”

Recently, I’ve begun to question the wisdom of this statement, and consider its roots.  I fear that too many Christians have uncritically bought into this statement wholesale; my own examples above to wit.  I believe this is a grave mistake, and dismissing apologetics as ineffective is unwise.

Whence the statement “you can’t argue someone over to Christ”?  I believe that it is largely a reaction to those who have engaged in arguments with unbelievers poorly.  Certain Christians have not “spoken the truth in love,” but rather, used apologetic arguments as a means to attack, belittle, or otherwise defeat an unbeliever.  The motivation here (admitted or not) has not been love for the person, or obediance to the Great Commission, but rather one of pride:  ‘winning’ the argument for the sake of winning; ‘winning’ in order to elevate oneself over another.  Moreover, I believe that too many Christians have relied on intellectual argument alone, to the exclusion of relationship, sharing one’s story, prayer, etc.  Let’s not forget the danger of not listening, either.  Francis Shaeffer, my own apologetic hero, remarked that when engaged with an unbeliever he would listen 95% of the time, and in the remaining 5%, try to offer one or two statements of the Truth in response.

How about the Biblical evidence?  Did not Paul reason from the Scriptures (Acts 17:2)?  Were not many added to the Body in resonse to Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:14-41)?  Ought not we be prepared to give the reason for our hope in Christ (1 Pet. 3:14-16)?  Craig looks at this in greater detail in his introduction, and examples abound.

Finally, for those with a penchant for empiricism, I have actual evidence that one can be argued over to Christ:  I was.  At 24, a single sentence in Paul Little’s Know Why You Believe grabbed a hold of me.  A day later, I gave my life to Christ.  God used this book, this series of intellectual arguments, as the hinge point in my conversion.  I praise God that Mr. Little didn’t abandon his book because “you can’t argue someone over to Christ.”

I would therefore propose an amendment to the statement in question:  “You can’t argue someone over to Christ IF

…you do so with a posture of arrogance or self-righteousness.”

…you do so to the peril of relating to that person as a fellow sinner infinitely loved by God.”

…you do so merely to ‘win’ the argument.”

…you talk more than you listen.”

At the end of the day Christians are just blind beggars telling other blind beggars where to get bread.  We should exhaust every facility of our being, including our capacity for reasoned argument, to direct others to the Bread of Life.

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How We Got the Bible

Special thanks to Chris at Zondervan for a copy of this book to review.  You can also check out Chris and others at Koinonia, Zondervan Academic’s new blog.

 

Every year in my classes, one of the most common questions I get is “how did we get the Bible?”  Most don’t know much about how the Bible was written, copied, and translated through the centuries.  Thankfully, Dr Clinton Arnold has given us a book that covers all of this, and more, entitled How We Got the Bible.

 

The subtitle is “A Visual Journey,” a most accurate subtitle.  Each “chapter” (never actually called that) takes 2 pages, with a short paragraph on the topic and quite a few great pictures.  The pictures alone make this book worth owning (but maybe I just like pictures).  You’ll find pictures of papyrus used for copying the Bible, pictures of ancient scrolls, fragments, etc.  When you see the pictures of the ancient copies with their holes and tears, you’ll realize just how much trouble it is for scholars to determine what the ancient documents actually say.

 

Arnold also includes information on how and where the Bible was copied through the centuries- from scribes in monasteries and scriptoriums to the Gutenburg Press.  You get a sense of the battles over translating the Bible- for John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Martin Luther and even in modern times, such as with the Yali people of Indonesia.  In my mind, after working through these pages you get a little more perspective on the ridiculous “translation wars” of our culture.

 

I couldn’t find much to argue with in this book.  Sure, there were times you could have wished for more information, but this book isn’t an academic treatise.  Perhaps a recommended reading list would have been helpful for those who wanted to pursue a particular topic further.  On his chart of recent English Bible translations, Arnold categorizes some Bibles as “gender neutral,” a term that I find loaded and misleading to many.  But if that’s the worst thing I can say about this book, then I won’t complain too loudly.

 

For me, there were two powerful aspects of reading through the book.  First, it continues to amaze me how God’s people painstakingly copied and produced the Scriptures over the centuries.  While you’ll still find some who argue that the Bible we have today is so corrupt that we’ll never know what it originally said, I find it so hard to support such a claim given the evidence.  This book illustrates this truth.

 

Second, Arnold does give a couple examples of modern Bible translation in languages that did not have the Bible- the Yali people of Indonesia (first Bible in 2000) and the three languages of the people of Kambari, in Nigeria.  It reminded me of just how far we have to go to get the Word of God into the hands of those who most desperately need it.  I’ve said for some time that the Bible is the best missionary there is, but it’s something we often take for granted.  In honor of this, here are links to 2 organizations highlighted in the book that are working to solve this problem: United Bible Societies and Wycliffe Bible Translators.

 

It’s quite a feat to produce a book that is informative yet brief and interesting, Dr Arnold has accomplished this.  I highly recommend this book and hope it gains a wide readership. 

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For our Resource of the Month, Brian and I have opted to use biblicaltraining.org and its free access to seminary classes.  One nice aspect for me is the chance to listen to Douglas Stuart’s Old Testament Survey class, which was a favorite at Gordon-Conwell but one class I did not take.  I’ve enjoyed the lectures immensely, which give you a good idea of Stuart’s engaging personality and desire to show the relevance of the Old Testament to the life of the church.

As I was listening to his lecture on the Prophetical Books (lecture #23), he made a point about the dating of the Law and the Prophets that I did not know.  It was (is?) a fairly common assumption within the world of Old Testament liberal scholarship for years that since the prophets do not quote the Law, the Law must have not been written yet.  The thought is that the Law must have been written after the prophets, perhaps with the authors of the Law using the prophets as their guide.  After all, if the prophets accuse Israel of breaking the covenant, wouldn’t they have quoted from the covenant itself in order to make their case?

But Stuart points out that while in our culture lawyers would point to specific laws and quibble over the precise interpretation of the actual wording to make their case, this was not the method used in the time of ancient Israel.  To make his point, he shows that other cultures in Mesopotamia did not quote their laws in court either.  Drawing on Driver and Miles’ study (I don’t know the exact date, but probably written 100 or so years ago), The Babylonian Laws, he notes how, for example, though Hammurabi’s Law Code (which existed before Moses’ Law) was placed in the center of every city, it was not quoted in trials in those very cities.

Thus, the argument that the prophets did not quote the Law in their accusations against Israel loses its foundation.  Stuart goes on to point out that the concept of “legal citation” didn’t really begin until the Roman period.  It is anachronistic (there’s your vocab word for the day) to argue that the prophets would have to refer to the Law if they needed to make their case.  Unfortunately, Stuart claims, there are still some scholars argue using “100-year old data.”

I commend this class to you, I’ve really enjoyed it.  Dr Stuart is an easy professor to listen to, and a true servant of the church.

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