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Archive for October, 2009

Free Tim Keller Sermons

This has already been thrown around a bit in the blogosphere, but I’m already playing catch up on this site from being inactive (sick) for 2 weeks, so I may as well finally post this.  Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City has made available 150 Tim Keller sermons for free.  I confess I haven’t listened to much of Keller, but I’ve read The Prodigal God (see Brian’s review here) and thought it was great.  At any rate, Keller’s one of the most respected evangelical pastors around today, so I highly recommend checking out his stuff.  Some of his “classics,” such as his Prodigal God series are available here.  Happy listening!

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In preparing for my own teaching, I’ve been listening to some more lectures from Dr Douglas Stuart’s OT Survey course, provided free by Biblical Training.  He has one lecture in particular called Three Kings, contrasting David with Saul and Solomon.  In it, he argues that when the Bible says, “The LORD has sought out for himself a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), it is referring to David not being a syncretist, unlike the other two.

My immediate reaction was, “where is there evidence that Saul was a syncretist?”  After all, it isn’t obvious in the narrative.  There are many faults of Saul explicitly detailed, but worshipping other gods isn’t one of them.  Stuart, however, argues that this was the case.

In 2 Samuel 2, Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, was crowned king and set up as a rival to David.  “Ish-bosheth” means “Man of Shame.”  Stuart’s argument is that no one would name their son “Man of Shame,” that this is a later scribal change to his real name.  His real name is to be found in 1 Chronicles 9:39, “Ishbaal.”  This name means “Man of Baal.”  This, of course, could be taken to mean “Man of the Master/Lord,” referring to God himself.  Or it could be taken to refer to the Canaanite deity, Baal.  Stuart’s argument is that the latter is more likely, since it helps explain why he is called “Man of Shame” in Samuel (scribal change, possibly to avoid the use of the name of Baal in one of the king’s sons, though I think very well could be debated).  Thus, Saul himself was a Baal worshipper, going so far as to name one of his sons in honor of the pagan god.

Proving Solomon’s syncretism proves to be a much easier exercise.  1 Kings 11:4 says, “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of his father David had been.”  Here Stuart sees a clear echo of the description of David in 1 Samuel 13, and I’m inclined to agree.

So what set David apart from these two kings, what made him a man after God’s own heart, was the fact that he held “exclusive trust” (Stuart’s term) in YHWH.  For all of David’s faults, and there are many, he never wavered from his faith that God alone was his hope.

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

This post is designed to be a summary of my thoughts on Bruce Waltke’s excellent book, An Old Testament Theology.  I’ve opted not to cover every detail of this book in my reviews, but have tried to sample a bit of what Waltke does and how I’ve found it helpful.  Because you check out my other reviews (go to the Book Reviews page), I will keep this relatively short and sweet.

Let me approach this critique byOT Theology using the subtitle of the book: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach.  It’s generally a good habit to critique a book based on the goals of the author rather than what the reader thinks they should have said.

The greatest strength of this book is the exegesis contained within it.  Time and time again I came away learning something new and being challenged to rethink some positions I’ve previously held.  In Part II of this review I mentioned his take on the “us” in Genesis 1:26 being the heavenly court.  His grammatical insights are fairly persuasive, in my mind.  His ability to link stories throughout the Old Testament through related concepts (see Part I) helped me realize the internal coherence of the Old Testament.

But one of the great aspects of this book, though, is how the exegesis flows well into theological reflection.  The reader doesn’t simply come away with notes on details of the text, but how the biblical authors were reflecting on the character of God and its impact on the reader.  In Part IV I highlighted his helpful treatments of the post-exilic historical narratives, in particular the Ezra-Nehemiah narratives, and how they highlight the loving providence of God.  Waltke excels in this regard.

As far as the thematic aspect of this book, Waltke focuses on the “theological center” of the Old Testament: “irruption (breaking-in) of the Kingship of God.”  “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).  Thus, the unifying theme is God’s redemption of a fallen world and bringing his kingdom onto this earth.  Thankfully, Waltke doesn’t try to fit everything into this theme, understanding that there are points in the Old Testament where this is not particularly highlighted.  Nonetheless, Waltke rightly sees the theme of God’s rule spread throughout the books of the Old Testament.

My main criticism of the book is in the “canonical” insights, specifically how a theme or story is traced throughout the rest of the Old Testament and into the New Testament.  Waltke openly admits that an NT scholar would be better equipped to discuss the NT developments, but he still ventures to offer some thoughts.  Unfortunately, though, I don’t think he tackles the most important issues and texts.

In Part III of my review, I point out how Waltke doesn’t adaquetly trace the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants throughout the rest of the canon.  Regarding Abraham, he spends most of his time dealing with Romans 9-11, and almost no treatment of how the prophets recall God’s covenant with Abraham.  And when it comes to God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7 and how that helps us understand the coming of the Son of David, Jesus, well… I came away disappointed.  He actually focuses on the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke rather than how God fulfills his promise to David in Jesus.  This seems completely out of place given Waltke’s own goals.  I understand he isn’t a New Testament scholar, but he is as well equipped as anyone to give us some substance to the NT references to these covenants.  The reader is left searching elsewhere for these insights.

But I don’t want to give the impression that this defincency in any way takes away from the important contribution Waltke makes in this book.  I’ve read other Old Testament theologies; I don’t think there is a better and more thorough treatment out there.  It’s true you can’t cover everything, even in a book this size, but Waltke does as well as can be expected.  Don’t let the size (and price) scare you away- An Old Testament Theology is so well structured and written that the reader will find it easier than its size might make you think.

Bruce Waltke is to be commended for his lifelong contribution to evangelical scholarship.  This book reflects decades of wrestling with the text and being challenged to reckon with the God of heaven and earth.  We ought to be thankful that Dr Waltke has given himself to the study and application of the word of God, and be thankful that he has given us such a masterful treatment of the Old Testament.  In the end, one gets the sense that Bruce Waltke has been profoundly changed by the God of the Bible and wants others to be as well.  The fruit of his labor will bless the church for many years to come.

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Twelve Tribes of IsraelA friend of mine is taking Dr Douglas Stuart’s OT Survey course at Gordon-Conwell right now and is studying for the final (you can actually access these lectures for free here).  One of the questions on the final is regarding the allotments of land for each tribe.  My friend’s question was regarding whether Benjamin is considered a southern or northern tribe (I vote south, since that’s where they ended up in the split- 1 Kings 12:21-24).  But then he brought up the tribe of Simeon, who geographically is in the southern portion of Israel, but seemed to end up siding with the north in the split.

So then, what happened to them?  Clearly they couldn’t takes sides with the north but keep their land in the middle of Judah, the powerful tribe of the south.  I think the answer can be seen in 2 Chronicles 15:9, when it says Asa, King of Judah, “assembled all Judah and Benjamain and the people from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon who had settled among them, for large numbers had come over to him from Israel when they saw that the LORD his God was with him” (TNIV).  This implies that the people of Simeon probably relocated to the north when the 12 tribes split into 2 kingdoms.  Some of those people came back when they realized they were on the wrong side.

If we were paying attention back when we were reading Genesis, we may have forseen something like this.  Before Jacob died, he “called for his sons and said: ‘Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come'” (Gen 49:1).  Here are the appropriate verses for our topic (vv5-7):

Simeon and Levi are brothers- their swords are weapons of violence.  Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased.  Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel!  I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.

So Jacob predicted these tribes would be dispersed, but this was fulfilled in different ways.  For Levi, his descendents became the priests of Israel.  Levi wasn’t alloted a specific plot of land, but cities throughout the land from which to minister.  Simeon, on the other hand, was alloted a plot of land in the middle of the tribe of Judah.  Some might consider that a fulfillment of Jacob’s words, but I think there’s more to it than that.  The tribe of Simeon, as implied by the 2 Chronicles passage mentioned above, seemed to scatter themselves by leaving their land and joining the northern tribes.

For me, checking into this was a good reminder of the coherence of the Old Testament.  It also reminds me of how Jacob’s prophesies in Genesis 49 sets the stage for some of what happens in the rest of the Old Testament narrative, but that’s another post for another day.

Note: I got the picture from eBibleteacher.com, which offers up images for free.  I checked the site to make sure I could use it, but it was hard to find that kind of info on the site.  At any rate, the site offers free images; I highly recommend checking it out.

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Knowing GodChapter 4 of Knowing God is always one of the most interesting to discuss.  It is here that Packer deals with the second commandment and proper worship of God.  His basic premise is that the 2nd commandment, which is a prohibition of idols, is talking about making an idol or representation of God Himself.  Many Christians take it as setting up an idol and worshipping it instead of God, but Packer argues this would be nothing more than repeating the first commandment.  For the sake of conversation we’ll go with Packer’s notion here, with the caveat that not all agree with him.

Regarding physical images of God, Packer states two reasons why this commandment is given: 1) Images dishonor God, for they obscure his glory, and 2) Images mislead us, for they convey false ideas about God (45-46).  In essence, we can’t capture the glory of God in an image, so we’re creating false (or incomplete) impressions about him that do not honor who God truly is.

Truthfully, I don’t really have an issue with Packer here.  Where most people get tripped up is on the next section, regarding mental images.  The idea is the same as the previous point, that our mental images dishonor God and mislead us about him.  Our mental images cannot capture the fullness of the glory of God, so making those images is breaking the second commandment.

I have a number of thoughts on this chapter, so let me run down the list.  NB: these mostly deal with the mental images portion of the chapter.

1)  I wish Packer would have handled the issue of the Son separately from the Father.  The fact is that Jesus did come in a physical form.  He is seen after his resurrection in a physical form.  Is there significance to the fact that Jesus is desribed in physical terms in Revelation 1, whereas the Father is not in Revelation 4?  It would have been nice for Packer to address this.

2) If we cannot ever have a picture of God in our mind, then I feel like God has played a cruel joke on us.  Were the original hearers really expected not to picture a shepherd when they heard Psalm 23?  What about when God talks about his “right arm” stretching out to save Israel?  Is one to repent for having a picture of an arm pop into their mind?

3) I hear Packer’s concern for not capturing the fullness of God in an image, whether physical or mental.  But, can’t we say the same thing about using words to describe God?  If I say God is a loving Father, which is certainly biblical, am I sinning because I’m not emphasizing the fullness of God’s character?  How would one ever capture all who God is accurately, in any form of communication?  I’m reminded of Haddon Robinson’s words: “every sermon borders on heresy.”  His point- you can’t capture everything in a sermon, thus you run the risk of short-shrifting God.  If you are preaching on the love of God, you naturally will not focus on the wrath of God.  That, of course, means you might mislead your listeners to think that God has no wrath.  Welcome to the challenge of living with human limitations!  I’m not sure why a mental image is any different from these other potential problems.

4) I’m not sure Packer adaquetly accounts for sanctification here.  The Bible teaches that believers go through a process of sanctification- being made holy.  What may be used for evil can now be used for good.  For instance, my mouth as an unbeliever may speak lies.  But as a believer, the Lord sanctifies me and uses my mouth to proclaim truth.  This process includes the sanctification of the mind.  So couldn’t an image in that sanctified mind be good?

I do have some strong agreements with Packer, lest anyone think I dismiss this chapter easily.

1) There is, even with my caveat about sanctification, a serious danger of imagining God as we would like to imagine him rather than the biblical revelation of him.  You don’t have to talk to a Christian very long to realize that God is often spoken of in limited terminology: Father, Savior, Friend, etc.  Those are all true and good, but they often reflect what that person wants God to be rather than what he fully is.  Often times the picture of God one has reveals more about the person than it does about God.

2) The second commandment “is a summons to us to recognize that God the Creator is transcendent, mysterious and inscrutable, beyond the range of imagining or philosophical guesswork of which we are capable-and hence a summons to humble ourselves, to listen and learn of him, and to let him teach us what he is like and how we should think of him” (48).  Amen and amen.

3) There are cultures in which one would do well to heed Packer’s warning.  I think specifically of a place like India, where people are accustomed to worshipping an idol that represents a god.  To introduce images into a culture such as this could be extremely dangerous.

I enjoy rereading this chapter every year.  Part of the reason is because it forces me to step back and look at my life and ask myself whether or not I’m truly worshipping and recognizing God for who he is.  Am I guilty of only focusing on those aspects of God’s character that I find most palatable?  Do I create an image of God that I prefer, over against who God has revealed himself in the Bible?  While I know many people will read this chapter and easily dismiss Packer’s point, I think it offers a wise and valuable look into the idolatry of our hearts.

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A series of ads funded by eight atheist groups are being posted in the New York subway system.  The ads will show a blue sky with the words, “A million New Yorkers are good without God.  Are you?”  It seems that this sort of thing makes news (or at least, this blog) every year.  This time, the ad appears to be less an attack on theism so much as an attempt to reach out to other non-theists.  Michael De Dora, one of the directors for an atheist group sponsoring the ad, expresses the intent to create awareness of the city’s secular community, and foster “talking and thinking about religion and morality.”

I personally don’t find the ad to be particularly offensive.  That is, it is no more offensive than other advertisements that litter our view.  Other advertisements promise that a new car will bring satisfaction, that a better paying job will bring about personal fulfillment, or that we deserve a luxury cruise.  A harsher critic might call these claims lies, and he’d be right.   So, is this ad also a lie?  Yes and no.

I could argue from my worldview, and claim that this ad is a lie because the million New Yorkers are not good.  They are actually sinners who bear real moral guilt for their thoughts and deeds, just like everybody else in the world.  This lie is amplified by two more lies:  (1) the presupposition that goodness can be achieved without God, and (2) the claim that real “goodness” actually exists without God.

I could also take a cue from De Dora, and do some thinking about morality.  Such thinking could lead me to argue that this ad is true, but desperately in need of an asterisk next to the word “good.”   The asterisk could be explained in fine print on the bottom of the ad: *that is, good as they define it.  However, that would make the ad a boring non-statement, since one can easily be good without God, because “good” is a meaningless concept that can be defined by the individual.  Therefore the ad is true.

In the interest of honesty, the ad might want to incorporate an additional footnote that being good without God may require the consistent thinker to live the rest of their days in despair over the absurdity of life without God.  Without God, our meaningless, purposeless life in the cold, uncaring, and dying universe makes the chemical accident of our existence cruel (that is, if such a thing as cruelty existed), and all of our striving for good (whatever that is), quite pointless, save perhaps that it can distract us enough to live in delusional happiness on our fleet journey to non-existence.  This sounds harsh, but life without God is harsh.  I’ve yet to hear a cogent argument for how life without God (or even a god) has any meaning, value, or purpose.

In my worldview, I can say that much of what the ad is striving for is good:  I commend the notion of people getting together, even more so when thoughtful dialogue is the goal, and even more when morality is the topic du jour.  I, too, do not want individuals to feel isolated, lonely, or persecuted because of their beliefs.  However, I cannot argue that the ad is good from the atheist worldview, because my thoughts are all predicated on the notion that there is such a thing as objective “good.”  The ad is therefore self-defeating, since by its own worldview, it cannot make any claims to objective good.  It could try, perhaps by an appeal to a collective, but the claims would ultimately fail because (1) living out such claims would require inconsistencies, as noted on this blog, and (2) the collective would change over time, making “good” today something different from “good” tomorrow.  If “today” were ancient Greece, for instance, the collective might condone the exposure of female infants.

Thankfully, we do not have to live in despair, because there is a God, and He is good.  The existence of a good God is also grounds for despair, since we are guilty of moral wrong before Him.  Thankfully, there is more good news, because Jesus Christ died and rose again to free us from our bondage to decay, and forgive us for our sins, such that those in Christ no longer stand condemned before God.  While this ad has the best of intentions (like many atheists in my experience), it cannot deliver on its promises, for there is no good without God, no hope without Jesus, and no turning to the good without the Holy Spirit.

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Final thanks again to Connie at Crossway Books for this review copy.  Introductory comments here, part 1 here, and part 2 here.

For this final portion of my review of William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith, I will tackle Craig’s last major sections, De Creatione and De Christo.  The former section addresses the problem of historical knowledge and miracles.  The latter, the self-understanding and resurrection of Christ.

Craig opens De Creatione with a quote from George Ladd, “The uniqueness and the scandal of the Christian religion rest in the mediation of revelation through historical events” (p.207).  Indeed, anybody who has ever tried to share about the life of Jesus will be confronted with the problem of historical knowledge.  Can we be certain about anything in the past?  With popular books like The Da Vinci Code claiming (to general head-nodding) that “history is written by the winners,” how can we trust the historical accounts of Christ’s life?

Craig addresses this problem by following his standard formula, and taking a frank assessment of historiography.  The bulk of his writing is aimed at debunking the notion of historical relativism, that is, the notion that history cannot be objectively written, nor can historical facts be objectively known.  Historical meaning, postmoderns will say, is determined by the interpreter.  Craig deconstructs such ridiculous and impractical notions with his trademark attention to detail, and candid humor (e.g., “No one employs the postmodern hermeneutics in reading the instructions on a medicine bottle” (p.229)).  Craig’s treatment on the problem of miracles is similarly thorough.  Though he admits little practical evangelistic value for this material (p.278), he notes that it is often important because of the naturalistic tendencies of skeptics today.  Indeed, he notes, if one begins to consider Jesus presupposing naturalism, the reconstructed Jesus will not be “based on evidence, but on definition” (p.279).

De Christo serves as a strong finish to an already strong book.  Craig begins by examining the quests for the “historical Jesus,” which he divides into three phases.  His opening assessments of these quests is the first of many strong rebuttals to the fallacies therein:

Who did Jesus think that he was?  In asking such a question, I take for granted that we want to know what Jesus thought about himself.  The primary object of the quest of the historical Jesus is Jesus himself, not some abstraction manufactured by the historian (p.296).

So much for historie, geschichte, “the historical Jesus,” “the real Jesus,” “the total reality of Jesus,” etc.  Craig (rightly, in my opinion) keeps his focus on what we can know about Jesus, and there is no better place to start than to consider what He thought of Himself.  By the end of the chapter, Craig has laid out a very clear case that Jesus claimed to be everything orthodox Christianity has said He is for close to two millennia.

To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to reading the final chapter, which deals with the resurrection of Christ.  This is mainly because I, perhaps like many Christians, have already heard (ad nauseum?) the arguments for Jesus’ resurrection several times.  It is this bias that made Craig’s treatment so refreshing.  While it certainly does rehash many arguments heard before (e.g., why would the disciples fabricate a resurrection story with women being the first witnesses?), the text is far from “been there, done that.”  Craig develops the argument on evidences for three facts: the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith.

Throughout, Craig applies C. Behan McCullagh’s seven factors used in weighing a historical hypothesis (see p.233).  Craig applies these criterion to all of the theories regarding the empty tomb, resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith.  The result is a very powerful series of arguments.  Although I read Craig’s text as a believing Christian, I wonder if a non-Christian could read this chapter and (honestly) be unconvinced of Christ’s resurrection.

I was especially struck by the power of his argument for the origins of the Christian faith.  Typically, I had never considered this as an important point, but as Craig concludes,

The origin of Christianity ower itself to the belief of the earliest disciples that God had raised Jesus from the dead.  That belief cannot be plausibly accounted for in terms of either Christian, pagan, or Jewish influences…The origin of the Christian faith is therefore inexplicable unless Jesus actually rose from the dead (p.395).

Craig’s book closes with a few pages about “the ultimate apologetic,” viz. the life of the Christian, which adds a concluding ministerial touch to what was (by his admission and intent) a text focussed primarily on theory.

As a whole, Reasonable Faith is the powerhouse of Christian apologetics that one would expect from the powerhouse of apologetics that is William Lane Craig.  I would commend it highly to anybody interested in what I find to be one of the most exciting fields of Christian study.  I will restate my caveat that this is indeed a technical text, and the intended audience (seminary students) ought to be at least casually versed in various philosophical and theological terms.  Said audience should also be prepared to take their time (though maybe not a year…) to try to digest much of the heavy solids that are on every page.  Somewhat like a text in systematic theology, Reasonable Faith, after an initial reading, will at the very least serve well as a reference book.  I can hardly think of a better starting point for the serious student of apologetics.  It is worth the effort, head explosions inclusive.

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