Archive for September, 2010

Oswalt on Isaiah 56-66

A     56:1-8 Foreign worshipers

        B     56:9-59:15a Ethical righteousness

                C     59:15b-21 Divine Warrior

                        D     60-62 Eschatological Hope

                C’    63:1-6 Divine Warrior

        B’    63:7-66:17 Ethical righteousness

A’    66:18-24 Foreign worshipers

John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66, NICOT, p465

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I don’t highlight forthcoming books very often, but when a couple of my former professors are coming out with good ones, I feel the need to jump in (and when I’m having trouble coming up with other blogging ideas).

Brian Rosner and Roy Ciampa, the latter being one of my NT professors, are coming out with a commentary on 1 Corinthians in the Pillar series (Eerdmans) (Mark Heath already mentioned this one here).  These two already worked together on the 1 Corinthians portion of the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.  Rosner has previously published in the area of Pauline ethics in 1 Corinthians 5-7, so I suspect we’ll get some good stuff here.  Ciampa’s doctoral work (under Rosner, I believe) was in the area of the use of the OT in Galatians, so I’m sure there’ll be helpful insights in that area in 1 Corinthians.  Ciampa also has done a lot of translation work in Portugal, and heads up Gordon-Conwell’s new DMin program on Bible Translation.  When I studied under him he utilized insights from linguistics, especially in the area of Semantic Structure Analysis.  The word on the street (where there’s always commentary buzz) is that this commentary will have a stronger focus on the Jewish background to the letter, which can be a weakness in other commentaries. 

I have no doubt this will be a fine commentary, I just wonder if it’ll be used as widely as it could, considering there are already many excellent 1 Corinthians commentaries out there (Fee, Thiselton, Garland, Hays- not to mention Witherington, Barrett, Fitzmyer, Blomberg, Keener, and probably more that I’m forgetting).  There are few biblical books with as many good options to choose from.  Nonetheless, people eat new commentaries up, and the Pillar series is one of the finest available, so I’m sure it’ll do well.

Another book I’m looking forward to is John Jefferson Davis’ (known as “Jack Davis” on campus) book on worship, Worship and the Reality of God (IVP).  Davis has been teaching Systematic Theology and Ethics at Gordon-Conwell (I took him for the latter) since the mid-70’s.  If there’s one thing I can say about him, it’s that he’s influenced by an interesting mix of traditions and theological persuasions.  He’s firmly Reformed.  Paedobaptist.  Ordained PCUSA, attended an Orthodox Presbyterian Church when I was at seminary, now serves at an Episcopalian church (which makes me want to have a discussion with him on ecclesiology).  He’s an Egalitarian regarding women’s roles in ministry.  Firmly believes in the continuation of the spiritual gifts.  He’s also a Postmillennialist.  He is a strong advocate for large families and vocal opponent of abortion.  He has also lamented evangelicals’ poor track record regarding their theology of creation and is ecological implications (see this essay [pdf] from the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society) and updated his popular book, Evangelical Ethics, to include a chapter on that subject.  He has a background in science (I want to say it was Physics, but my memory could be wrong), writing and lecturing extensively on the intersection of science and faith.

My point is this: you don’t really know what you’re going to get.  If I get a chance to read this (it’s due about the same time as Pierce Baby #2, so that’s a big if) I bet I’ll be pumping my fist in agreement (what, you don’t do that when you read?) in one chapter, and shaking my head in the next.  I like to read those kinds of books.  At any rate, I’m excited for it’s release.

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There’s been quite a bit of buzz as of late regarding creation again (how we should reconcile science and the Bible- if at all, creation vs evolution or some combination of both, etc).  I don’t really want to get in on all of that, but I want to jump in to talk about one idea: the “natural reading” of the text and the “day” of Genesis 1.

There are various ways to view the days of creation in Genesis 1: literal 24 hour days, longer and undefined periods of time, a literary device, etc.  Each of these views has their own merits and problems, which I won’t go into here.  But I do notice that many of those who argue for a literal 24 hour day do so, in part, on the appeal to the “natural reading” of the text.  That is, they claim that if you just take the text for what it appears to be saying, you’d have to see them as 24 hour days.

I suppose, in one sense, that’s true.  Most of us would probably see the “day” as 24 hour periods of time.  That doesn’t prove, in my opinion, that it’s the natural reading, and certainly not that it’s the correct reading.  My point is that the “natural reading” is often times a fantasy, rather than a fact.

Before anyone accuses me of dipping my toes in the murky waters of postmodernity, let me affirm that I do think there is a correct understanding of the word “day” in Genesis 1 (namely, mine).  I’m not arguing that there are multiple correct views, that we can each pick our own view and everyone gets to win.  I do think some readings are more “natural” than others, but I’d argue that this isn’t always the case.

The problem is that none of us come to a text as a blank slate.  I try quite often.  I fail quite often.  What sounds like a natural reading to me may not be all that natural; it simply may fit my grid more easily than other readings.

Let’s go back to the days of Genesis 1.  Many have claimed that the refrain “there was evening, and there was morning- the __ day” is a clear indication of a literal 24 hour day.  It’s the most natural way to understand the text.

But, how natural is it when you consider that the sun, moon and stars don’t show up until Day 4?  I could be wrong, but I’m not sure there’s ever been a civilization who kept track of days without the use of the sun.  Yet, we’re supposed to believe that the natural way to understand “day” is as a 24 hour period of time, even though the only means of measuring an “hour” is the sun, which didn’t exist until Day 4.  See the problem?  It doesn’t sound all that natural to me.  Side note: I know that there are other views that argue the sun, moon and stars were already created, but weren’t given their function until Day 4 (whatever that means).  I’m not convinced because this is not the natural reading.  =)

Interestingly, in my 5 years or so of teaching Genesis 1 at church, I have not had a single student point this out.  Not one.  Mind you, these are intelligent people.  I live and minister in Boston, and it’s a proven fact that people in Boston are smarter than people everywhere else (and by “proven fact” I mean “arrogant and unfounded assumption”- and don’t get mad, I’m just trying to keep you interested).  I’m not entirely sure why no one has caught this, but I’ll hazard two guesses:

  1. We’re generally bad readers, whose powers of observation desperately need a work out.
  2. We seek the familiar.

The second point is the one I want to make.  A reading may seem “natural” because it already sounds familiar.  We understand the concept of “evening and morning.”  When we read those words we fit it into an existent category, because it feels natural.  And we pass over the fact there was no sun or moon.  But we also need to look for features in a text that seem “unnatural.”  Noticing the unexpected can often reveal more than you bargained for (see the broken chain of death with Enoch in Genesis 5, or the unexpected list of tribes in Revelation 7 discussed in this post, and so on).

There are probably a million directions to go with this, but I titled this post “Somewhat Random…” to get me off the hook of drawing out the implications of what I’m saying.  My main point is that there needs to be a little humility when we shoot down an opposing view because our reading is “natural.”  What may be natural to us may betray our own inability to process everything containted within the text, and show that we’re really just fitting everything in to a comfortable category.  It does, after all, feel natural.

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I first heard of David Bentley Hart’s book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, while listening to an interview of Hart by the excellent Ken Meyers. I ordered the book the next day, and even reflected on some of my first (giddy) impressions here.  In the introduction, the forthright Hart describes the pages to follow as a “historical essay,” purposed to highlight “the effect of Christianity upon the development of Western civilization” (p. ix).

The book is largely a response to the work of popular atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennet.  Hart states that a point by point refutation of of the collective work of these men is more or less futile, since they make no good arguments, if they argue anything at all.  He does not critique their atheism; what he critiques (decimates, actually) is the self-serving history that these men and their acolytes have created to bolster their anti-Christian agenda.  As Christopher Hitchens puts it in the sub-title of his book, God is not Great, religion “poisons everything.”  That is, Christianity (more broadly, religion) is by its nature cruel, barbarous and oppressive.  Says Hart,

Many of today’s most obstreperous critics of Christianity know nothing more of Christendom’s two millennia than a few childish images of bloodthirsty crusaders and sadistic inquisitors, a few damning facts, and a great number of even more damning legends (p.17).

The bulk of the text, then, goes on to show how these celebrity atheists have gotten all of the details wrong, from their misunderstanding of Galileo’s conflict with the Catholic Church in the early 17th century, to their convenient forgetfulness of the atrocities wrought by non-Christian dictators and leaders over the past few centuries:

Can one really believe – as the New Atheists seem to do- – that secular reason, if finally allowed to move forward, free of the constraining hand of archaic faith, will naturally make society more just, more humane, and more rational than it has been in the past?  What evidence supports such an expectation?  At the end of the twentieth century – the century when secularization became an explicit political and cultural project throughout the world – the forces of progressive ideology could boast an unprecedentedly vast collection of corpses, but not much in the way of new moral concepts (p. 222).

Hart’s book is immensely broad in scope, yet decidedly focussed in the points he refutes.  Positively, he notes that Christianity so revolutionized Western thought that we (atheists included) now take those ideals – ideals such as loving others, human equality, social justice – for granted.  For example, we can no longer look upon human suffering with indifference (and without violating our consciences) precisely because of how Christianity changed the West.  The moral ideals that comprise the battle cry of the popular atheists do not have their origins in pre-Christian pagan culture, or the Enlightenment, or the 1960’s, but in Christianity.

Hart’s tone, as I’ve commented before, is calm and mature.  He is the erudite professor scolding the cocky, underachieving high school students who think they’re going to change the world with half-baked, unoriginal arguments and sanctimonious vitriol.  While no easy read, Atheist Delusions is a delight, and a powerful apologetic to some of Christianity’s best known detractors.  The research-minded reader may be let down by a lack of footnotes, and I myself was disappointed with some of Hart’s pessimistic conclusions, but these are easily overlooked.  For anyone wishing to engage with those influenced by the likes of Dawkins, or perhaps those who would like more to say (other than “sorry”) to non-believers when they blurt out “What about the crusades?” Atheist Delusions is a must read.

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Finally, the Bible shows us the perfect completion of God’s covenant with Abraham in the book of Revelation.  In fact, all the great Bible covenants are there in the book of Revelation.

  • Noah is there in the vision of a new creation, a new heaven and new earth after judgment.
  • Abraham is there in the ingathering and blessing of all nations from every tongue and language.
  • Moses is there in the covenantal assertion that ‘they will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God,’ and ‘the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them’ (Rev 21:3).
  • David is there in the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, and in the identity of Jesus as the Lion of Judah and Root of David.
  • The New Covenant is there in the fact that all of this will be accomplished by the blood of the Lamb who was slain.

Christopher J H Wright, Salvation Belongs to Our God, p95.

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Note: this post was first posted at my old blog on 7/24/06, but I’ve copied it here as I was inspired by Cousin Jeremy’s post on worship (linked to here).  It was, as you’ll see, written in response to a question a friend had asked.  Because it was written over 4 years ago (have I been blogging that long?) some of the details (“this past Sunday”) aren’t quite right.  I’ve resisted the temptation to clean this up, though it needs more work. 


In the comments of my last post, my good friend, Pam, asked this question:

What do you think about speaking to each other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs? Can I say “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise” next time I see you? Would that make you chuckle, or be encouraged? What is the not-so-literal interpretation of that charge? (in your thoughts…)

First, yes, I grant you permission to say “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise” to me next we see each other. Second, yes, I probably would chuckle, but maybe I shouldn’t.

As for your question, you are no doubt referring to Eph 5:18-19, where Paul states, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord…” This passage is similar to Colossians 3:16, where Paul says, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” I’ll deal mainly with the Ephesians passage, but the Colossians passage is helpful, since they are parallel (Ephesians and Colossians are very similar, which has led many scholars to think that they were written around the same time). Anyway, I think they’re basically saying the same thing.

What can we say about the Ephesians passage? First, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” modifies the main verb, “be filled with the Spirit.” This isn’t obvious in the NIV, which treats all the participles (speaking, singing, making melody, giving thanks and submitting) as separate commands. (I really like the NIV, but this is something they consistently get wrong. Thankfully the TNIV has corrected this.) The exact relation between the participles and the main verb can be debated, for now I’ll stick with the idea that the participles (speaking, singing, etc) are results of being filled with the Spirit. Clearly not the only results (Paul elsewhere talks about spiritual gifts, the fruit of the Spirit, and so on), but they are the results Paul chooses to highlight. People who are filled with the Spirit are people who speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (I wouldn’t make too much out of the 3 types of songs mentioned here).

So, part of life in the Spirit is speaking and singing songs. This shouldn’t be surprising, since in 1 Corinthians 14 (an extensive teaching on the Holy Spirit and corporate worship), Paul encourages his audience to have a psalm (among other things) when they assemble (v26). And the Colossians verse is really interesting because there songs are used for teaching and admonishing one another. I think that the same idea is present in Ephesians as well (community expressions of the Spirit filled life). So what we have here is the use of music and singing as a means of encouraging and teaching each other.

So what should we do? Well, for one thing, it affirms the use of music in the life of the Church. This, of course, is to be expected, since there is an entire book of songs in the Old Testament meant for God’s people. It also shows us that songs are used for more than just a nice beginning (and end) to our worship service. Songs of worship play a role in teaching the body (in seminaryspeak, they have a “didactic function”). Music has played an important part in most (if not all, I’m not an expert) cultures, why not the Church?

In my opinion, this should influence the music we choose to play in our churches. Do the songs we choose accurately reflect the teaching of the Bible? Do they reflect the character of God? Do they encourage/inspire/rebuke/challenge the people? I’m thankful that my church has a worship leader who puts a lot of thought into the music and chooses songs that are primarily God-centered (which is rarer than it should be).

Let me also say, however, that it has become more and more common to hear people bash modern worship songs as theologically shallow and weak, especially compared to hymns (this is quite popular in some circles, and amongst many in seminary). This bothers me, and I’m clearly a big fan of hymns. First of all, pick up a hymnal and you’ll find that most of the entries leave a lot to be desired. The best of the hymns are unbelievably powerful, but many are pathetic. Anyway, that’s not my main point, so please don’t get caught up in that.

Second, I think there are a higher percentage of quality modern worship songs than many are willing to admit. There certainly have been plenty of bad ones (anyone remember the Hop on the Bus craze of about 10 years ago?). But there are plenty of good ones. I think part of the problem is that people confuse simple with shallow. Jesus Loves Me is a simple song, but it is hardly shallow (that’s why it works so well with children). I’ve even heard people claim that a worship song was shallow, until I pointed out to them that it was taken practically word for word out of the Bible (I wish I could remember what song it was). It’s a matter of song selection, just like with hymns, we need to choose the ones that glorify God and edify the body.

Let me give an example from our worship service this past Sunday. We sang a song written by David Ruis called We Will Dance. I like this song, but I wouldn’t put it in my top 10 or anything. But the imagery used for the people of God really struck me. It relates the Church as people “from every tribe and tongue and nation” and a “pure, spotless Bride.” What an opportunity to teach about the Church! I thought about how I can look around at the people of God and not see a pure, spotless Bride. I certainly don’t feel pure and spotless. But this song accurately portrays the people of God, especially as we will be seen from God’s eyes at the wedding feast. I think this is a great way to teach people about how Christ has redeemed for Himself a people and the true nature of the Church (ecclesiology). And like I said, this isn’t even necessarily a great example of a theology-laden song (although I do think it has more than first meets the eye).

Let me make one final point about the Ephesians passage. Paul also says “singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” It seems obvious, but it’s worth saying (in order not to forget) that worship through music exists first and foremost to bring glory to God. It does not exist primarily to provide us a medium through which God can touch us, although He may do that. And the best time for us to learn and be edified is when God is glorified.

Anyway, I’m not really sure I’ve addressed Pam’s question. I thought about this the other night and really wanted to put some great thoughts out, but who has the time? Instead, I’ll throw these out there and hope that someone will respond and refine what I’ve said. Does anyone else have any thoughts about how we can use music to help teach and encourage the Body?

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Cousin Jeremy Goes A-Rantin’

Everyone needs to let loose a good rant every now and then.  Cousin Jeremy does so- about worship.  Check it out.

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