Wednesday, September 03, 2008

important announcement for blog of danny reader(s)

Hey everyone, you may have noticed that I disappeared for a bit. Or maybe you didn't. Either way, it's largely due to a new project that I'm working on with Brian that is being launched today. That project is called "Boston Bible Geeks." It's a team website/blog that we hope will prove useful to those wanting to learn more about the Bible, theology, missions, etc.

Essentially, it comes down to this. I want to be able to use the internet, specifically a blog/website format, to aid in learning the Bible, and to supplement my teaching at church. That wasn't really being accomplished here, and truth be told, this may not be the best place. So, we switched to wordpress, since there you can have a "pages" feature, which makes it more website like, and still costs us nothing.

Also, neither Brian nor I manage to keep our blogs updated with any kind of consistency, as you've probably noticed. Honestly, it takes both of us to keep up with one normal blogger. We're busy and sometimes it's hard to justify spending so much time on a blog that no one reads. So, we decided to join forces.

As for the blog of danny, I'll keep it up and running for now. I may still post stuff about sports, although Bruce is the only one who reads that stuff and even then he never comments. So check back here, and give me some feedback. I may still be able to salvage this thing.

But for now, we'd really appreciate it if you go and check out Boston Bible Geeks, or "BBG" as we like to call it. My desire is that BBG will be a better place for interaction with those who read our blogs. Thanks so much for reading, hope to see you over at BBG.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

5.5 random things: good reading edition

5.5. This post is dedicated to those who were praying for my wife and me as I was sick and had to miss out of one of our summer mission trips. Thank you so much.

5. As someone who is part of the "charismatic" movement (understanding that the term is defined with difficulty), I found this article from Charisma magazine on the Lakeland "Revival" to be instructive, one that everyone ought to read and think about. I have much I could say, but I'm not sure I will. If you want some follow up, let me know.

4. One of my weekly delights is checking out the "Songs, Hymns and Spiritual Songs" posts from Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY. These are posted every Monday, and consist of a rundown of the Sunday setlist at the church, with some thoughts given on each song. Here is the setlist from August 10. I highly recommend this blog.

3. In the "I Can't Wait Until This Book Comes Out" category, you'll find Greg Beale's upcoming release, We Become What We Worship. It's a study of the Bible's teachings on idolatry. Looks terrific. In fact, here's the cover, see for yourself.

2. There's been some debate on a couple blogs recently about the TNIV, but I won't link to them largely because they end up in arguments over quasi-related items in the comments section. Instead, I'll link to an article written by Craig Blomberg about the TNIV, one of the best things to read on this subject. I can no longer find the pdf of this article, but if someone has it, I'd love to get it. It's long, but worth the read.

1. Congrats to my good friends, Bruce and Morgan, as they announce that they will be having their second child. These two are dear friends, and their son Elijah is one of my favorite children in the world. I miss them dearly.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Book Review: How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind

Thanks to Adrianna of IVP for a review copy of this book.

It is still a prevalent but hopefully decreasingly common (thanks to the efforts of scholars such as Phillip Jenkins) view that Christianity is a “Western” (American or European) religion. Whereas Jenkins spends most of The Next Christendom showing that Christianity is growing most in Latin America, Africa and Asia, Thomas Oden’s new book, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, helps show the long history of Christianity within Africa, arriving long before both Islam and the camel. But Oden’s goal isn’t simply to show that Christianity has existed, or even thrived, for centuries in some places within Africa. Such a thesis isn’t remarkable for those who have even a superficial knowledge of church history.

Instead, Oden sets out to show that “Africa played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture” (p9). Historians have been getting it wrong for some time by claiming that the greatest achievements in the early church were from Europe, especially Rome. Oden argues: “Well-meaning European and American historians have a tilted perception of the relation of African and European intellectual history in the third and fourth centuries, and thus at the apex of African influence” (p31).

“This is what the book is about: to state the African seedbed hypothesis in a measured way and begin to sort out the facts that support it” (p31). In doing so, Oden hopes to swing the pendulum back to appreciating Africa’s vital role in shaping Christianity as we know it.

In “Part One: The African Seedbed of Western Christianity” (chapters 1-5) Oden lays out the foundation of the rest of the book. Topics covered include the need to recover ancient texts and excavate ancient Christian sites in Africa (chapter one) and “Seven Ways Africa Shaped the Christian Mind” (chapter 2). He also argues for his definition of “African”, rejecting the idea that skin color should be the determining factor, but rather “if a text was written in Africa it will be treated as African” (p69). The same goes for the theologians/monastics/bishops he surveys. If they were from Africa (whether North African or Sub-Saharan), he counts them as African.

Oden wants his reader to understand that he is not trying to overstate his case, or to discount non-African contributions to the formation of Christianity. His desire is “ecumenical” (which he’ll admit is a bad word in some circles). His desire is to include Africa and Africans into the conversation, allowing their voice to be heard, not create an insular spirit among African believers. “If Africans were saying that they want their sources to come from Africa alone and not from anywhere else, then that would be deficient in the catholic spirit. But this is not the direction of African expectations. They seek a fair hearing for valid arguments based on evidence” (p93).

I’ll admit that this section of the book became a bit repetitive at points. Barely a page goes by without the reader being reminded that Christianity has long existed in Africa, that Africans were dealing with theological and pastoral issues before Europeans made them famous and so on. All valid points, to be sure, and indeed this is the very thesis of the book; but the repetition could have been avoided and trimmed this section a bit more.

In “Part Two: African Orthodox Recovery”, Oden points out why the retrieval of early African Christianity is important. “It is precisely from the ancient African sources that global Christianity can relearn that the church guided by the Spirit is never irretrievably fallen away from the truth” (p103). Rediscovering early African Christianity can also be instructive for the various forms of emerging African Christians. “They now have the benefit of learning about conflict resolution from their ancient African mentors. From that history they learn that not every difference of opinion is demonic and not every union is of God” (p107). As African Christianity grows, “The brilliant instruction and guidance of early African Christian texts and witnesses stand ready to nourish this regrounding” (p109).

For example, Oden notes that many of the early martyrs in the church were Africans, such as Perpetua and Felicitas in Carthage (modern day Tunisia). These African martyrs helped propel the church throughout the world. Also, the early African martyrs can prove inspirational to modern African Christian suffering persecution. “The meaning of the struggle of the early African martyrs begs to be understood in modern Africa” (p120).

Oden ends this section of the book with a biographical note of his growing interest in African Christianity, as well as an impassioned plea for others, particularly Africans, to pick up his vision of voicing the strength of early African Christianity. He confesses he’d love to do more, but admits his life “may be shortened by congestive heart disease” (p141, though we pray this is not true). He actually has helped set up a consortium called the Center for Early African Christianity (website:, to help facilitate this study.

Herein lies the true goal of the book, to spur on the next generation of African scholars to take up the challenge of studying early African Christianity. Oden makes many assertions throughout this book, but admittedly offers only a small amount of evidence to support his claims. What he does offer is provocative and enough to admit that he is probably correct. But much more needs to be done. For instance, it is one thing to show that African church leaders dealt with a certain issue a century before the Europeans did, it's another thing to show the European church leaders relied on the Africans in forming their decisions. This book is a challenge, a shot across the bow of young historians. If Oden is correct, that Africa did in fact play a more decisive role in the formation of Christianity than just about everyone realizes, then the Church will profit from the investigation he calls for.

This is a tremendous book and is worthy of being read by anyone who enjoys church history, or even African history. Thomas Oden has served the Church over the last few decades by editing the Ancient Christian Commentary Series (through IVP) and reminding us of the necessity of remembering our roots in the early church. This book continues his service to us all, may his vision be realized soon.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

An Old Testament Theology: Book Review, Part I

Thanks 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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bruce Waltke & OT Theology

I have always had an interest in Bruce Waltke, the famed OT scholar. I was first introduced to him (not literally) in undergrad by one of my OT professors who studied under Waltke at Dallas Seminary back in the 1970's. There were three things that stuck out to me then, that have been reinforced since, which separate Waltke from so many other Bible scholars.

Waltke is wicked smart.

First, we read an article written back in the 1960's about the "colophones" of the Psalms (the little notations "Written for the director of music. Of David", etc). He argued that our current understanding of how these colophones were used is incorrect. Have you ever noticed that in Habakkuk 3 the "For the director of music" notation comes at the end of the psalm rather than at the beginning (as in our book of Psalms)? Well, Waltke argues that Psalms should be understand that way as well (and pulls in outside sources like Egyptian poetry to buttress his position). This was one of my earliest introductions to evangelical scholarship, thus it has stuck in my mind ever since.

He also coauthored An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, a monster book we used in Intermediate Hebrew. It weighs in at almost 800 pages, and is bigger (dimensionally) than your standard book. It was also surprisingly easy to use for such a difficult subject.

Waltke also holds two doctorates, one in the OT (Dallas Seminary) and one in the NT (Harvard).

These three things stood out in my mind as showing that this man is incredibly intelligent (which is a nice non-Bostonian way of saying "wicked smart").

Waltke is a student of Scripture.

Waltke once taught at Dallas Theological Seminary, which is (arguably) the bastion of dispensational academics in America (probably the world). However, at some point (and I'm not entirely sure when) he underwent a change of theology, leaving behind dispensationalism. Depending on what side you stand on this issue (and I'm on the non-dispensational side), you may or may not like this. But what it said (and still says) to me is that he is a scholar who doesn't mind reexamining his position. Considering how many of us (scholars or laypeople) cement our feet in place and refuse to rethink our current theology, I find this aspect of Waltke's scholarship refreshing.

Since then, I ran across a quote (which I can no longer find) from the early 1990's where Watlke said something to the effect of "I don't think I really understood the OT until I began to read it narratively." It amazed me that someone who was a widely respected scholar (and not just by evangelicals), who had helped teach the Bible to thousands of students from the 50's on, could think he hadn't really understood the Bible.

All this to say, Waltke is a scholar who is constantly learning. It seems that his role as a student of Scripture has never ceased, no matter what "heights" in the scholarly world he has reached. Again, this attitude is a trait all-too-uncommon in the Church today (no, not just in the academy).

Waltke loves the Lord.

My professor once told us that when Waltke was teaching at Dallas, the beginning of the class period would be packed with people not enrolled in the class who would come just to hear Waltke pray. Now, I know of very few people I would go out of my way to hear pray. This says a lot about who Waltke is and the respect he commands, not just as a scholar, but as someone who loves the Lord.

These 3 things conspire together and cause me to admire not just the scholarship, but the humility and service of Bruce Waltke. And so, it's with excitement that I have been reading his new book, An Old Testament Theology. I'll be posting thoughts over the next couple months as a multi-part review/interaction. I do this in part because I get more out of the book because of it, but also because I know that some of my readers may never pick up a 1000 page book on OT Theology. Waltke wrote this book for the Church, so I'd like for everyone to glean from it's teachings. As Waltke says on page 19, "After all, this people has more at stake in understanding the Bible's message than anybody else- they are the ones committed to live out fully the implications of that message to the point of dying for its truth."

why am I here?

You might be thinking after reading the title of this post that I'll be discussing the deeper thoughts on life that we are all prone to have on occasion. Alas, such is not the case. Some of you may have remembered that I said I wouldn't be around much this summer because I had 2 mission trips and a vacation planned.

Well, we got back from Peru last week. Then I got sick. 104 degree temperature. Fainted. Went to the hospital. Stayed at the hospital. Pneumonia. Stupid doctor said I can't go on my second mission trip, the one my wife and I were supposed to lead.

So, my team is on the other side of the world, without me. I'm home, resting, reading and preparing for the coming year at church. It also means that I'll be posting more regularly, so stayed tuned (oooh, the suspense!).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Resurrection of the Body: Part V of V

Check out parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

This final post deals with some of the "so what?" questions that come up in my mind as we talk about the resurrection of the body. Many people can't figure out why it matters, so I hope to deal a little bit with that.

Some qualifying thoughts…

1. In this whole discussion of future benefits of Christ’s resurrection, we should not lose sight of the fact that there are present benefits as well. Since Christ has defeated sin, we can be free from sin today. Romans 6 carries out this thought. Paul hints at this in 1 Cor 15:17.

2. None of this is to deny the temporal nature of “the way things are.” We are told time and time again not to cling to the temporary pleasures of today.

What does it matter?

1. Because the Bible says so. This may appear flippant, but it really isn’t. If the Bible says that we will be resurrected, then we ought (at the very least) assume that it is important. This is especially true when we consider that this is the very completion of our salvation!

2. True reversal of what happened in the Garden of Eden. This is clearly seen in Revelation 22. “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there by any curse” (22:2-3). God’s plan is to reverse the curse that was levied against Adam and Eve in the Garden. The imagery of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21-22 intentionally echoes the Garden- and is even better!

3. God is not settling for plan B. By affirming that God’s original proclamation of creation as “good” and His desire to restore creation, we affirm that God is not simply a troubleshooter who had His plan thrown off track by those pesky humans. True, humans have marred creation with their rebellion. But even man’s worst rebellion has not ruined the inherent goodness in creation and its original worth to which God will restore it.

4. Helps reclaim eschatology in the Church. Much of the discussion on eschatology in American Christianity is dominated by talk about dates, tribulation, the Anti-Christ, the rapture, etc, that the hope that permeates the NT can be lost. Throughout the NT, Christ’s 2nd coming is seen as something to be longed for and a motivator for action. While most would agree, they still seem to get stuck on details the NT gives little information about and miss the victory that comes at the end. I find it heartbreaking the discussion of the “end times” tends to lead to confusion, fear or apathy (or some combination of these)- yet none of these were ever the intention of the NT authors!

5. There is comfort in knowing where we are going. It is interesting to note that where we go when we die is not where we will live forever. Where we go when we die is an intermediate state. Granted, it seems to be a wonderful place in the presence of God (Phil 1:23, 2 Cor 5:8). But that should make us long for what is beyond even that. If dying and going to heaven right now is better than this life, then how much better will living in a re-created world be!

In Romans 8, we see that Paul finds comfort during present sufferings in the fact that is “glory that will be revealed in us” (v18). But, note that the glory he is referring to is the redemption of our bodies- not simply dying and going to heaven right away (as true as that is). How different this is from the consolation we often give to others in suffering!

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, we see that Paul comforts those who have lost loved ones- not by informing them that “they’re in heaven now”, but by reminding them that someday, Jesus is coming back and all His people will be reunited forever. This is, essentially, 1 Corinthians 15 in miniature. Yet, we consistently comfort those who mourn with thoughts about them being in heaven, which is comfort, to be sure. But, we are comforting them with something less than what God has planned!

6. There is value to the created order. In much of Greek philosophy the created order was something to be looked down upon. There was a higher spiritual existence that fair exceeded what we see here on earth. When one dies, their souls are transported to some disembodied existence where they remain forever. However, in the Bible, God values what He has created. This, of course, shouldn’t be surprising since He declared it all “good” when He first created it. Apparently, He values it enough that He was to see it completely redeemed.

This has some practical implications. First, in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Paul deals with the Corinthians who thought that the physical body was meaningless, therefore one has the right to do what they want with it (good Greeks that they were). Paul counters by pointing out that God is “for the body” and intends to raise us as He rose Christ from the dead (v14). Since God places such value on the body, so ought we.

Second, by analogy, we can make the same connection to creation as a whole in Romans 8. If God cares enough about the created order to redeem it fully, then we ought to care enough about it to honor it now, just as we should with our own bodies.

7. We share what belongs to Christ. This is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated aspects in modern Christianity. Those who are in Christ are “co-heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:17). Christians have an inheritance with Christ (because of Christ). This is seen here in resurrection. Christ has won victory over death, and shares that victory with His people- that is, they are raised from the dead just as He was.

There are other places with similar ideas. For instance, in Daniel 7 the Son of Man receives an eternal kingdom and is worshipped by the nations. In that same chapter, the saints also receive the kingdom- but are not worshipped. In Ephesians 1, Paul says that Christ was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God in the heavenlies. In chapter 2, Paul says Christ’s people are also seated in the heavenlies- but not at the right hand of the Father. The examples of Daniel 7 and Ephesians 1 show us that Christ shares in His victory, although there are certainly limits. In the same way, Christ shares His resurrection with His people.

In Philippians 2:10-11, Paul says that he wants to participate with Christ in His sufferings and “somehow attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” In the next chapter, Paul talks about how Christians “eagerly await” Christ’s return when He “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (3:20-21). This echoes what Paul says in Romans 8:17- “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Christ shares His glorious resurrection with His people. That is what it means to be “in Christ.”

8. Treats death for what it really is- an enemy. There are hints in the church of the popular notion that death is just the beginning of a new journey (see Gandalf in LOTR). While our life as Christians certainly doesn’t end at death, the Bible itself treats death as an enemy that must be defeated. Death is not a part of God’s original plan for creation, it was the consequence of human sin. We know this by nature as well; death doesn’t simply feel like a new beginning. It hurts. It should; it’s a consequence of rebellion against God.

9. The resurrection points to the total view of the kingdom of God. “The kingdom of God” is the primary focus of Jesus’ preaching. Contrary to much of popular Christian opinion, this kingdom is not simply a matter of collected souls for some disembodied existence. Rather, it is His kingdom here on earth. This kingdom is inaugurated in Jesus, and is carried out through the Church. This kingdom involves feeding the hungry, healing the sick, etc. In understanding that God’s people will be resurrected in (imperishable) bodily form, we see that this is the final “installment” of the kingdom.

Part of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom was His healings; these 2 things cannot be separated. In God’s kingdom, sickness & demon possession are seen for what they are- not a part of God’s original plan. In Jesus, these problems begin to reverse. As Jurgen Moltmann stresses, the kingdom of God- when it has fully arrived- is the restoration of the natural (original) order of things: “Jesus’ healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world. They are the only truly ‘natural’ thing in a world that is unnatural, demonized, and wounded” (The Way of Jesus: Christology in Messianic Dimensions p99). These miracles point to what is to come- Moltmann says “But in the framework of hope for the coming of God and his kingdom, Jesus’ healings become inextinguishable reminders of this future” (In the End, the Beginning: The Life of Hope p65). Resurrection is ultimate healing- it fully restores what has been destroyed.

10. Avoids an “incomplete redemption.” The common view of “life after death” understands redemption as souls going to heaven. However, God’s plan of redemption is far more complete than that. He has not only given people souls, but bodies. Those bodies are affected by sin just as the soul is. God’s plan is not to discard what has been marred by sin, but to redeem it and set it free.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Book Review: The Majesty of God in the Old Testament

Thanks to Caitlin at Baker Publishing for the copy of this book to review.

Walter Kaiser’s new book, The Majesty of God in the Old Testament: A Guide for Preaching and Teaching, sets out to help reclaim the subject of the majesty of God in our churches. This book, as the subtitle indicates, is geared towards preachers and teachers, though I imagine it would be useful for small group discussion leaders, as well.

The book is broken down into 10 chapters, each covering a different passage focusing on a different aspect of God’s majesty. Here’s the breakdown:

1. Magnifying the Incomparability of Our God (Isaiah 40:9-31)

2. Magnifying the Greatness of Our God (Daniel 4:1-37)

3. Magnifying the Word of Our God (Numbers 20:1-13)

4. Magnifying the Wonderful Name of Our God (Jeremiah 31:1-44)

5. Magnifying the Pardoning Grace of Our God (Micah 7:11-20)

6. Magnifying the Holy Spirit from Our God (Zechariah 4:1-14)

7. Magnifying the Awesome Character of Our God (Psalm 139:1-18)

8. Magnifying the Glory of Our God (Ezekiel 1:1-28)

9. Magnifying the Grace of Giving from Our God (1 Chronicles 29:6-19)

10. Magnifying the Holiness of Our God (Isaiah 6:1-13)

Now, his actual sermon style and outline is not necessarily something you have to copy, though I suppose you could (but cite your source!). But his outlines, especially, are useful for understanding how a passage is shaped. For those of us who’ve heard Dr Kaiser preach (he was President at Gordon-Conwell when I was there), you can see him throughout the book, from the sense of humor (dealing with Num 20:3-5 he notes that the Israelites “now let their cattle ‘horn in’ on the argument”, p58) to his use of interrogatives and keywords.

What will probably be the most helpful aspect is his ability to bring various aspects of biblical studies into the sermon preparation. To give some examples, he uses archaeology to help us understand just how great Babylon was in the time of Nebuchadnezzar and how that helps us understand Daniel 4:1-37 better. I know I didn't realize how massive and beautiful Babylon must have been, it helped me better understand Nebuchadnezzar's pride. He shows how word studies can be useful, especially in discussing the importance of “name” (ch 4) and “word” (ch 3). His thoughts here can be invaluable and I highly recommend them.

There were a couple weaker points, though part of that is merely a matter of interpretation. But still, he tries to argue that the Holy Spirit indwelt believers in the OT, yet only proves that the Holy Spirit was active amongst God’s people prior to Pentecost, which isn’t really up for debate. He makes much out of Moses saying “must we bring water out of this rock?” (Num 20:10), arguing that Moses was including himself in God’s activity when he should not have been. Kaiser asks, “Who said anything about Moses and Aaron bringing water out of the rock?” (p60)

Um, actually God did, right there in v8: “You will bring water out of the rock....” Moses clearly did something wrong in this passage, but confusing his personal pronouns was not the problem.

But those points shouldn’t detract from an otherwise helpful book. In fact, the first chapter, on Isaiah 40, was terrific; I plan on utilizing it in the future. And I’m in complete agreement with Dr Kaiser that the majesty of God is an underdiscussed topic in our churches today. I’m grateful he has written this book to help us in that deficiency.

On a final note, here’s hoping Dr Kaiser has many more healthy years ahead of him. He has been such a strong encourager and servant of the church for so many years; I pray that the Lord continue to use him in his (semi)retirement.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Book Review: Simple Spirituality

Thanks to Adrianna of IVP for the copy of this book for review.

Christopher Heuertz is the International Director for World Made Flesh, an organization dedicated to showing the love of Jesus through advocacy and ministering among the poorest people in the world. He is a man who lives out some of the most challenging verses of the Bible- those that call us to help those in need (not just feel bad for them) and sacrifice what we have on behalf of others. While not written for this purpose, I came away respecting Heuertz: he is a man who practices what he preaches. Too few have that honor.

There are 3 things to keep in mind while reading Simple Spirituality:

1. It is largely autobiographical. It is not a true autobiography, but contains stories of Heuertz's journey to "see God" and understand things the way they really are. Hence, the subtitle of the book, "Learning to See God in a Broken World."

2. It is a call to help the poor. Again, that is not the entire point of the book, but this comes across page after page. This book is a very real, very powerful call to take seriously Jesus' words and example.

3. It is a book on spiritual disciplines, 5 in particular: humility, community, simplicity, submission and brokenness. It is not a spiritual disciplines book in the classical sense, like Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline, but it sees the disciplines in light of Heuertz's own story and the global (poor) community.

Keeping these 3 points in mind is helpful because it allows you to read the book for what it is, rather than hoping for something it is not. Thus, it is not a treatise on helping the poor, though it contains elements of that. It is not an in depth look into the biblical teachings of the disciplines, though that's in there too. And it is not a book about the life of Christopher Heuertz, though he writes time and time again of his own journey. These 3 elements are combined throughout this book, and I, for one, thought it was refreshing.

There were a few terrific points, some of which ought to go without saying, but alas, they need to be said anyway.

1. Heuertz notes that "As I learned to love GOd, my love was not motivated by fear or the threat of hell (not even the promise of paradise), but rather by the character of the One who is by nature lovable" (p36). It's true that much of American Christianity is based on the fear of hell or the hope of heaven, which is fine to an extent. But what about serving God because He is worthy to be served, not because of what He can do for us (or against us)? Isn't He worthy of being followed regardless of reward or punishment?

2. Throughout the book there is a simple (that's a big word for this book) following of Jesus' commands. If Jesus says "feed the poor", then, well, go and feed the poor!

3. "The worth of a person is directly related to the fact that he or she is created in the image of God" (p54). Thus, "our dignity comes from God, allowing our identity to be found in God" (p55).

4. "Many of us think that our personal geographical context justifies our disengagement from the hurt and pain of the rest of the world. ...fellow believers in the Sudan or Sri Lanka or Peru are as much an intrinsic part of the body of Christ as are the Methodists, Presbyterians, or Catholics down the street" (p81).

5. His chapter on simplicity was great; for instance, "essentially, simplicity is letting God truly be God, surrending to that in all areas of life as an act of submission to God and humanity" (p84).

6. On brokenness, he states, "We are broken when we recognize our utmost need for God and leave everything behind to have our needs met in God" (p129, italics original).

7. Finally, I'll quote one full paragraph from the chapter on community (p72). Next to it I wrote the word "OUCH."

While Christianity is fractured, the Muslims, who are famous for their brotherhood, take the appealing edge. Poor people know their need for community. They affirm their need for one another. They find strength in numbers. How can the church expect those on the margins to join it if the church can't offer them the one thing they know they need?

Heuertz is able to draw lessons from life and call us rich folk (yes, even us lower middle class Americans are rich in comparison to the majority of the church) without being condescending or manipulative. That is no small feat, given the tendency of many to use guilt trips in attempt to spur God's people into action. I think Heuertz is able to accomplish this because his story is about he came to learn these lessons. You get the sense that he simply wants the reader to learn the lessons he has learned.

I did have a few questions throughout the book that weren't answered, though I suppose that's bound to happen.

He calls the church to help the poor, citing Jesus' words and example. But, do they (Word Made Flesh, his organization) call the poor to "go and sin no more"? Heuertz doesn't answer this, but I'll admit this isn't the point of the book. But still, you can cure an idolatrous leper of his leprosy, but his greatest sickness remains: his idolatry.

Who are the "children of God" (p55)? Who makes up "Christ's body" (p140)? He often blends Christians and non-Christians into these definitions, yet I'm not sure, biblically speaking, we can include non-Christians into these terms. Certainly not "Christ's body", but I'm not even sure the Bible ever refers to non-Christians as "children of God." I may be wrong, and I'm willing to have someone point examples out to me, but that particular term seems to be reserved for those who are in the covenant people of God. With that being said, I'm not sure it matters too much when it comes to who we help- we're called to help whoever is in need (see the parable of the good samaritan). But it's a question worth asking.

Both of these questions are not answered, and I can't expect them to be, I suppose. This is especially true of the first question; this book is not about the practices of Word Made Flesh, so I can't wait around for him to tell me about how his organization handles such situations. But, if I ever have the pleasure of talking with Chris Heuertz over a cup of coffee, I'll ask him.

Finally, I'll point out that the Bible teacher in me would cringe periodically with his "what is the ___ (Goliath, 5 stones, etc) in your life?" style of hermeneutics.

This book was interesting to read on a plane ride to Peru, where I went on a short trip to help a poor town, and a church in that town, in the middle of the Andes Mountains. It was a helpful reminder that the comforts and treasures of our culture are fleeting and unnecessary. It was a reminder that those I was travelling to help are no less important than I am, not less made in the image of God.

If you're looking for a book that teaches you about the classic spiritual disciplines, then maybe you should go with Foster's book. If you're looking for a biblical teaching on possessions and money, I'd recommend Craig Blomberg's Neither Poverty Nor Riches. But if you want a book that combines some of both, Simple Spirituality is a great choice. It's an insightful look at how we can approach and learn the disciplines from the perspective of helping those in need, wherever they are.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Lead Us Back: Songs of Repentance

I’ve felt for some time that one aspect of biblical worship that is largely missing from our modern worship is songs of repentance & confession. In some cases that’s because we generally prefer our songs to be “uplifting”- we want people to connect with God, not feel bad about themselves. In other cases, it may be that we just don’t have that many good songs of repentance. I can understand that, song writers probably write songs of repentance, but those songs may be too personal for corporate worship.

The “uplifting” concern worries me, largely because such encouragement is ultimately shallow. We want the feel-good benefits of the grace of God, without acknowledging why that grace is needed in the first place. But without knowing how great our sin is, how can we ever know how great God’s grace is?

This morning I was listening to some songs from an album called Before the Throne, put out by Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY. You can download 4 of the songs from that album for free; I highly recommend you do so soon. I’ve grown to love these songs, as evidenced by the fact that “In the Shadow of Your Glorious Cross” is the most played song on my iTunes. In this case, though, it was the song “Lead Us Back” that was particularly powerful. It is a song of corporate repentance and lament over our sin. The lyrics are by Bobby Gilles and Brooks Ritter. This song has its finger on the pulse of the church, and poetically describes some of our shortcomings. I found myself convicted of the sins mentioned in this song; and convinced of my need for God’s grace. I hope you take the time to read these, listen to the song and reflect.

Falling down upon our knees
Sharing now in common shame
We have sought security
Not the cross that bears Your name
Fences guard our hearts and homes
Comfort sings a siren tune
We’re a valley of dry bones
Lead us back to life in You

Lord we fall upon our knees
We have shunned the weak and poor
Worshipped beauty, courted kings
And the things their gold affords
Prayed for those we’d like to know
Favor sings a siren tune
We’ve become a talent show
Lead us back to life in You

You have caused the blind to see
We have blinded him again
With our man-made laws and creeds
Eager, ready to condemn
Now we plead before Your throne
Power sings a siren tune
We’ve been throwing heavy stones
Lead us back to life in You

We’re a valley of dry bones
Lead us back to life in You
We’ve become a talent show
Lead us back to life in You
We’ve been throwing heavy stones
Lead us back to life in You

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Book Review: Worship Matters

Thanks to Denise & Shantay of Crossway for the review copy of this book.

Despite my lack of musical or vocal talent, worship is one topic I've always been interested in. I've written about it before, and I've had plenty of other thoughts that have never made onto the blog of danny (at least not yet). I find myself in a weird position: someone who loves hymns and theologically rich songs, yet I'm actively involved in a charismatic church (and wouldn't have it any other way). Can't I have both? Now, there'll be some who think I'm trying to have my cake and eat it too. Then again, what's the point in having a cake if I can't eat it? And in this ridiculous metaphor, which is the cake: theology or charismata? Let's move on.

Thankfully, Bob Kauflin exists.

Bob Kauflin has been a pastor and worship leader for over 20 years and is the author of the popular worship blog Worship Matters, which is also the name of his new book. Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God is a collection of wisdom from a man who has been around. He's a member of a reformed charismatic group of churches, Sovereign Grace Ministries, now serving as Director of Worship Development. His book covers a wide range of topics related to worship, and despite the relative brevity of each section, he manages to provide helpful insights that show his years of wisdom (I promise, I'm not trying to make him sound old).

Kauflin divides his book up into 4 sections: The Leader, The Task, Healthy Tensions and Right Relationships. The breakdown is fairly natural and allows him to discuss each section with relative ease. While this book is not a biblical overview of worship (he does recommend other resources for that), he has sprinkled throughout the book biblical insights. One aspect of his 4-part division that I appreciate is that it allows him to weave theology into each section, rather than dealing with theology in one section and “more practical” matters in another. Kauflin truly does attempt to have his theology inform all matters of his book.

The first section, The Leader, is divided up in discussions on the heart, mind, hands and life of the worship leader. Here he deals with the worship leader himself before anything else, and doesn’t let them off the hook. You may not be the pastor of the church, but you are responsible before God and your church to take care of your own walk with the Lord, all facets of it. And Kauflin has no room for a division between head and heart (a division that I don’t feel is particularly biblical anyway).

If our doctrine is accurate but our hearts are cold toward God himself, our corporate worship will be true but lifeless. Or if we express fervent love for God but present vague, inaccurate, or incomplete ideas of him to those we’re leading, our worship will be emotional but misleading—and possibly idolatrous. Neither option brings God glory. (32)

He also deals with the issue of skill, offering wisdom in an area often breezed over. Kauflin, an accomplished musician himself, is aware of the tension between needing a certain skill level, but not allowing skill to override the worship. He notes,

Our varied skills should function like the frame around a classic painting. If the frame is too bold or extravagant, we’ll hardly notice the picture it displays. On the other hand, if the frame is cheap, shabby, or married, we’ll wonder why such a masterpiece is surrounded by junk. The right frame complements the picture in all the right ways, directing our eyes to the brilliance of the artist, not to the frame. (38)

The second section, The Task, answers the question: “So what does a worship leader do?” I’ll give you the multi-part answer as it’s broken down in the book so each element will stand out:

A Faithful Worship Leader…
…Magnifies the Greatness of God…
…In Jesus Christ…
…Through the Power of the Holy Spirit…
…Skillfully Combining God’s Word…
…With Music…
…Thereby Motivating the Gathered Church…
…To Proclaim the Gospel…
…To Cherish God’s Presence…
…And to Live for God’s Glory.

Kauflin deals with each portion of the answer as it’s own chapter, with “With Music” taking up two chapters (one on “What Kind?” and one on “Planning Sunday’s Songs”). Again, he manages to weave theology, practical wisdom and advice throughout the chapters rather seamlessly. To give a couple quick highlights:

Not surprising for someone from Sovereign Grace Ministries, I found Kauflin coming back to one point over and over again: Jesus Christ died for our sins. This truth “assures us that our worship is acceptable to God” (p74) and he also notes, “if we help people focus on what God did two thousand years ago rather than twenty minutes ago, they’ll consistently find their hearts ravished by his amazing love” (p75-76).

In regards to God’s presence during worship, he discusses an often presumed aspect of modern worship: we worship to “usher in the presence of God” (not a phrase he uses, but one that I’ve heard more times than I can count). Kauflin, though, brings in the wisdom of D A Carson: “He warns that if we start thinking it’s our worship activities that bring God’s presence near, ‘it will not be long before we think of such worship as being meritorious, or efficacious, or the like’” (p139). I realize that many people when they assume such things are speaking phenomenologically. Suffice it to say, I think using this kind of language can breed more problems than it’s worth.

Ultimately, all this is done for God’s glory. This isn’t mean to be some abstract notion of giving glory to God, but has practical implications. Kauflin quotes Allen Ross, “If worshipers leave a service with no thought of becoming more godly in their lives, then the purpose of worship has not been achieved” (p149).

The third section of the book deals with “Healthy Tensions”, such as God’s transcendence and immanence, planning and allowing room for spontaneity, and whether or not worship is for the church or for unbelievers. I appreciate Kauflin’s desire not to lose balance between each of the “extremes” (though I hesitate to call them that in all cases). But often times in trying to stay balanced, people end up with neither. I don’t think Kauflin ever does that, but I’m not so sure others will be as skilled.

In order to keep these healthy tensions, in my opinion, the worship leader needs to rely on others. So, I think Kauflin’s final section of the book is especially helpful. He deals here with the relationships the worship leader has: the church, the team and the pastor. Here we see two aspects of Sovereign Grace Ministries coming out (and these are good things): a great love for the local church and a great respect for the pastor. The worship leader, though a leader, serves the church and needs to hear from it. The worship leader is also ultimately under the leadership of the pastor and may need to submit when necessary. In fact, Kauflin’s final chapter is written to pastors as some words of advice, perhaps the best being, “A church’s response to God’s greatness and grace rarely rises above the example of its pastor” (p251).

All in all, Kauflin has written a terrific book. He does a great job of blending biblical insight, personal anecdotes and wise advice throughout the book. As for who should read it, I think it’d be a great idea for worship leaders to glean from it. Pastors, too, ought to read it as a reminder of the purpose of worship in the church. And though I am neither, I gained so much from this book. I intend to make use of Kauflin’s insights in my teaching, as many of his points apply to that as well (which shouldn’t surprise us, since worship is a form of teaching). The truth is that any Christian can read this book and come away with something.

I suppose the one thing I wish Kauflin touched on was worship leading in smaller settings. While my church has one worship leader, we have many people who lead worship throughout the week in small groups, prayer meetings, etc. True, all of his points can be transferred over easily enough. But in the NT, especially in 1 Cor 14, Eph 5 and Col 3, we see that singing in church is an activity that all participate in: we bring songs to each other to teach and encourage. On Sunday mornings with 200 people (that’s my church’s size), that’s difficult to do. But it can be done on a smaller scale. But, ultimately, that isn’t the purpose of Kauflin’s book. Maybe he’s a secret reader of the blog of danny and will take up the challenge on his own blog.

This book did make me thankful for the worship leaders we’ve had at my church. I can’t say that I’ve loved all the songs we’ve sung or the style of music we’ve used on every song. But I can say with confidence that our worship leaders aren’t simply looking to create a nice feeling or get everyone hyped up. Our current worship leader often makes it a point to say that we continue worshipping after the songs are down, which reflects his (biblical) understanding of worship.

I hope this book encourages worship leaders and pastors to consider carefully the role of worship in the church. I hope they pick songs with greater care, since, as Kauflin quotes Gordon Fee: “Show me a church’s songs and I’ll show you their theology” (p101). I hope they remember that worship is not about us “connecting with God” or walking away feeling better about ourselves, though those are good things. Ultimately, worship is about praising God for who He is, as revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit dwelling in our lives.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Update on blog of danny

I'd like to give a heads-up to my reader about what'll be happening over the next 6-8 weeks or so here at the blog of danny. You'll be getting more book reviews than anything else, for 2 main reasons:

1. It's the summer and I finally get to do some reading.

2. I'm travelling on a couple mission trips, which means I'll have plenty of time on plane rides to read. True, maybe I should be praying all through the plane ride to the other side of the planet, but I'm not as spiritual as you are. Sorry.

As for what I'm reading, I'm trying to branch out a bit beyond my traditional biblical studies and commentaries. So, I'm reading a couple books in church history, one on worship, one on "spirituality" (whatever that means), one on preaching & teaching and one on money and possessions. Unfortunately, one book I'm dying to read (on OT Theology) is so big (over 1000+ pages and hardback) that I won't be able to travel with it. Thus, though I've started reading it, the review itself will have to wait until sometime after I'm back and I can sit down with it.

I hope that you won't check out during this time, though. Instead, I hope you'll interact with the reviews, offering up some thoughts and reactions. In fact, it'll probably be better than the standard fare you've been getting around these parts.

So, stick around. Yesterday I posted some thoughts on Jesus Made in America, I'll probably post some thoughts on another book within the next couple days or so. Thanks for sticking around.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Book Review: Jesus Made in America

Thanks to Adrianna of IVP for the review copy of this book.

A few weeks back I posted some thoughts on the Introduction of Stephen Nichols' book, Jesus Made in America, published this year by IVP. To be honset, I wish I were a full-time blogger, because I feel like this book deserves a post for every chapter. In fact, I hope to do a multi-part interaction with it someday, possibly in the fall. But of course, don't hold me to that.

Nichols does a terrific job combining careful insight, painful observations (painful for someone in the midst of evangelicalism) with a healthy dose of humor. Throughout the book are fascinating accounts and snapshots of how Jesus has been used (and abused) throughout American history in a more-or-less chronological arrangement, from "the Puritans to The Passion of the Christ", as the subtitle states. Nichols sets out to "unveil these pictures of Jesus in American evangelicalism, to tell the story of his American evangelical incarnations" (p13) as well as "to raise signification questions about the state of Christology in American evangelicalism" (p17). Even with my disagreements (see below), I have to say: Nichols' book is a success.

The Puritans stand as Nichols' best form of American Christology, the standard to which the rest of American evangelicalism is measured. Through the words of Edward Taylor and Jonathan Edwards, Nichols, rightly, shows that the Puritans were not simply a boring bunch (though I admit "boring" is subjectively defined), who totally confined religion to the intellect and rule abiding. In fact, they loved the arts and poetry. As much as they taught the deeper points on theology, particularly Christology, in their sermons, they were also capable of writing words like: "Here [Christ] comes to give us the caresses of his love, and lay us in his bosom and embraces" (p31-32). Update the language a bit, and you got yourself a Jesus Is My Boyfriend worship tune! Thus, the Puritans were not simply intellectuals, but passionate worshippers of God (contrary to popular belief).

He does have a criticism, however, and that is "Given their dexterity in articulating both an orthodox, creedal Christology and a heartfelt piety, they didn't always follow through with Christlike action" (p40-41). Mind you, I think he largely lets the Puritans off the hook here, as he spends far more time praising them than critiquing them on this very important point. I have some thoughts as to why this is so, but I'll save that for a later post.

What follows is essentially a lesson in how we tend to "create a Jesus in our own image." I remember reading Albert Schweitzer's comment made over 100 years ago, that the liberal scholars of his day were "looking for the historical Jesus down the well of history, only to see their own reflection." Nichols shows us how the early founders of America (specifically Ben Franklin, John Adams and especially Thomas Jefferson) were concerned not with a divine Jesus (hence Jefferson's cut & paste work on the Gospels). ). "What mattered most to Jefferson, especially for the new republic, was that Jesus was a virtuous man" (p57). These founding fathers help pave the way for the virtuous and moral Jesus, rather than the Jesus who is God and died for the sins of the world (p72-73).

In the 19th century, The frontier Jesus suited the non-educated men and women of the frontier, who did not want to bother with a God-man, but one who can be understood through personal experience and simple stories. The Victorian Jesus introduced the more feminine Jesus, as seen in John Sartain's picture "of the Victorian jesus, gentle, meek and mild, with flowing hair and high cheekbones, and a softness that only a womanly Savior can muster" (p84). Thus, "the prevailing contribution of the nineteenth century to American Christology is that Jesus...became captive to ideology" (p95).

Chapter 4 deals with the battle between early 20th century liberalism (such as Harry Emerson Fosdick) and orthodoxy (see J Gresham Machen). Nichols' quotes Machen's words, "Liberalism regards him as an Example and Guide; Christianity as a Saviour: liberalism makes Him an example for faith; Christianity, the object of faith" (p117). I think Nichols ought to have pointed out that Jesus is in fact an example for us to follow (1 Peter 2:21, Phil 2:1-11), but his main critique is correct: liberal Christianity has reduced Jesus to an example and removed His rightful place as God in the flesh and Savior of the world. The fallout of this period, though, is that "for contemporary American evangelicals... the tug of war between devotion to Christ, on the one hand, over precise thinking about Christ, on the other, often goes in the direction of devotion" (p120).

In more recent years (chapters 5-8), Nichols gives us an honest (and sometimes painful) look at Christianity. Here, we see the rise of "Jesus Is My Boyfriend" music (whoever invented that term is my hero, by the way), where "like a good boyfriend, Jesus shows up at the right moment, says the right thing and knows how to hug" (p140). While I felt that his dealing with movies about Jesus (in chapter 6) is his weakest of the book, he makes a good observation: that these movies tend to appeal to emotion and personal experience more than anything else.

Chapter 7 deals with the commercialization of Jesus and Christianity, whether through WWJD bracelets, t-shirts or Jesus action figures. Perhaps his greatest point is during his discussion of The Shepherd's Guide: The Christians' Choice of Yellow Pages, which is a book for Christians to help them find other Christians in various types of businesses. Nichols states, "The Shepherd's Guide, not to mention CCM and even the union of Christian insurance agents, creates an insular world for Christians" (p185). Christians, ostensibly in an effort to witness by wearing Christian t-shirts or buying only from Christian businesses, have isolated themselves from the rest of the world, who tend to laugh at us more than weep in repentance. It makes me ask: what purpose do these products actually serve?

Chapter 8 deals with Jesus in American politics. This chapter, I would imagine, may have been the hardest to write, simply because there's so much to deal with. He's weakest when discussing the right wing portrayal of Jesus, largely because (in my opinion) there is less about Jesus and more about Christianity here. With that said, it's well known that the right wing of American politics has often appealed to Christianity to support its agenda. On the left wing, we see men such as Jim Wallis (which is spelled correctly and incorrectly- with the homophonical "Wallace"- multiple times in the same paragraph), who use the stories of the Gospels to show that Jesus cared primarily about helping the poor and the outcasts of society, which they claim lends support to the left wing cause. Ultimately, what happens is that we end up with a truncated Jesus (my term); a Jesus that does not take into account the whole of the Gospels.

There were a few points that stood out to me as particularly poignant from this book:

1. We haven't been especially strong in letting the depth of the Gospels come out. Nichols warns us that "we need not shrink back from complexity" (p226). It's true, we tend to keep Jesus limited to our experience (Jesus is my fishing buddy, etc) rather than allow the fullness of who He is (as seen in the Bible) impact us.

2. Interestingly, while we ignore (or fail to be impacted by) many of the stories about Jesus, we tend to "fill in the gaps." Time and time again throughout this book, Nichols shows how Americans have simply not been comfortable with letting the Gospel stories to speak for themselves. We want to know what Jesus' face looked like when He spoke to someone. We love to read Max Lucado stories, as he offers up imaginative stories that we do not find in the gospels (p78-79). The problem, however, is that these types of stories tend to provide the substance of the presentation of Jesus, rather than allowing the Bible itself to do so.

3. His treatment of "Jesus Is My Boyfriend" music is terrific. It's often true, that you can take many Christian songs and substitute "Jesus" with "baby" and end up with a love song fit for a cheesy romance movie. Many would consider this harmless, but Nichols makes a great point: "Even lovesick teenagers on the shores of life or shaking like leaves need more than a hug from Jesus. Even they need to know that he is the God-man. If they don't hear it in the songs, the locus theologicus of today, then where will they hear it?" (p145).

4. American Christianity, for the most part, does not care what the ancient creeds of the church say about Jesus. We think that we have come to the Bible with a blank slate and come away with a biblical portrayal of Jesus. We don't need some dead guys who spoke Latin to tell us what to believe. The problem is that Christians who do not learn from Christians of history will be more susceptible to cultural influences of their day. Nichols shows this time and time again.

5. We need to go back and revisit our idea of who Jesus is. Do we have a truly well-rounded and biblical idea of Jesus? What episodes of Jesus' life do we neglect at the expense of others? What aspects of Jesus' character do we think about / pray about / sing about / preach about? What are we leaving out? Are we being conformed to Jesus' image (Rom 8:29) or are we conforming Him to ours? I found myself asking these questions of myself over and over throughout the book.

To close, I really enjoyed this book. It's one of the best books I've read in some time, and even where I disagree with Nichols (and I certainly do at points), I found myself conceding that he had a point to consider. If you are at all interested in Christianity and culture, American religious history or how evangelicalism has evolved over the last few hundred years, you ought to read this book.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Resurrection of the Body: Part IV of V

Click to read Part I, Part II or Part III.

It is interesting to see how crucial the early church considered the resurrection of the body, compared to the relative lack of interest in today’s church. This is not to place these writings on the level of Scripture. I’m including these for 2 main purposes: to show how early Christians interpreted the Bible’s teachings on the resurrection of the dead and to see how crucial this belief was to those in the Church who taught and pastored the people of God through decades (if not centuries) of growth amidst persecution. Though this is a small sampling, and admittedly these quotes are pulled from various contexts, I think these show that the resurrection of the body was crucial. It seems to me that these men defended the resurrection of the body for two main reasons: to argue against those who denigrate the importance of the physical body in favor of the “spiritual” world and to draw encouragement in the middle of the persecution and afflictions of this life.

As you will see, I stuck mainly to the first 2 centuries, with the two major early creeds at the end. These quotes proceed in more-or-less chronological order; the dates given are the best guesses at the dates of their respective births and deaths. I hope that at least some of you will not simply read these quotes, but go back and check out the context to see what else these writers say. You can find the writings of Clement, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus here. For the Tertullian writings on the resurrection, click here (and follow the links to the left); for Origen's you can click here.

Clement of Rome (30-100 AD), 1 Clement Chapter 24: “Let us consider, beloved, how the Lord continually proves to us that there shall be a future resurrection, of which He has rendered the Lord Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising Him from the dead.”

Justin Martyr (100-165 AD), Dialogue with Trypho Chapter 80: “I pointed out to you that some who are called Christians, but are godless, impious heretics, teach doctrines that are in every way blasphemous, atheistical, and foolish. …For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth]… who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians.”

Irenaeus (120-202 AD)), Against Heresies Book2 Chapter 29: “And then the doctrine concerning the resurrection of bodies which we believe, will emerge true and certain; since, God, when He resuscitates our mortal bodies which preserved righteousness, will render them incorruptible and immortal.”

Tertullian (160-225 AD), On the Resurrection Chapter 1: “The resurrection of the dead is the Christian trust. By it we are believers.” These are the first 2 sentences of this writing; you could go on to read this entire document, as it defends the physical resurrection of believers from a number of standpoints.

Origen (185 -254 AD), Origen de Principiis Book 2 Chapter 10: notes that “some take offense at the creed of the Church, as if out belief in the resurrection were foolish, and altogether devoid of sense; and these are principally heretics.” Later he does note that there are “some of our own, who, either from feebleness of intellect or want of proper instruction, adopt a very low and abject view of the resurrection of the body.”

Apostles’ Creed (2nd century AD): “I believe in… the resurrection of the body.”

Nicene Creed (325 AD- I think this is the 381 AD form): “I look for the resurrection of the dead.”

I finish with the words of our earliest known non-canonical Christian writer, Clement of Rome (1 Clement Chapter 27):

“Having then this hope, let our souls be bound to Him who is faithful in His promises, and just in His judgments.”

Thursday, June 05, 2008

5.5 random things: NBA Finals Edition

5.5. This post is dedicated to childhood memories of Bird vs Magic, Parrish vs Kareem, McHale clotheslining Rambis and basketball players wearing uncomfortably (for those of us watching) short shorts.

5. No one on the Celtics will be able to stop Kobe Bryant, I don't think there's much arguing that. However, Kobe will, at times, settle for shooting jumpers, and if he does, the Celtics will have a legit shot at winning. If not, well, I'm not sure they'll pull it off. One of the great things about Jordan (I know, it's a tired comparison) was that he wouldn't allow other teams to force him to shoot jumpshots. He'd insist on taking it to the basket. Boston's defenders (my guess is it will be a rotation of Pierce, Allen and Posey) can't let Kobe do that. Otherwise, the Lakers will go home with the title.

4. The Celtics should have a strong edge in rebounding, which could work especially well if they can force Kobe to shoot jumpshots (thereby creating more rebounding opportunities). I'm assuming Perkins will play Gasol, which means Gasol will probably try to pull Perkins away from the basket. That may seem to work in the Lakers favor (since Gasol can score from the outside and Perkins is a better defender down low), but perhaps not. Gasol is a good offensive rebounder, and if he takes his offensive game away from the basket, that means it's up to Odom to outrebound Garnett (not going to happen), or Bryant crashing the boards (more likely, though harder if his defender can push him outside- see #5). This works even if Gasol is matched up against Garnett (Gasol will still try to pull Garnett away from the basket). At any rate, my point is: the Celtics ought to take advantage of this.

3. The Lakers, on the other hand, have a decided edge in the coaching department. I mean, really, Jackson vs Rivers? Has a coach that inferior to his opponent ever won?

2. I've heard a lot of people (here in Boston) saying that Rondo will be able to take advantage of his youth and quickness against Derek Fisher, giving Boston the edge in the point guard department. I'm not convinced. True, Rondo is younger, faster and more talented. But, the Lakers just beat the Jazz and the Spurs, who both have better points guards than Rondo (Derron Williams and Tony Parker, respectively). If Fisher didn't hurt them in those series, why would we think he would now?

1. The part that scares me the most (besides their coach being one of the greatest of all time and our coach being a solid TV analyst) is the problem of a clutch performer. Kobe Bryant plays well in the clutch, that's been seen over and over again. The Celtics don't have that consistent crunch time player. Garnett passes up the chance to take over, despite the fact that he's one of the top-5 players in the game. Paul Pierce has moments where he takes over a game: game 7 against Cleveland this year (41 points!) and Game 3 in the 2002 Conference Finals against the Nets (18 points in the 4th quarter to come back from 21 down). But he doesn't do this consistently. You know Kobe is going to come through in the clutch; the question is: will Pierce match him?

I've convinced myself that with the rebounding/low post edge, homecourt advantage and Paul Pierce having a monster series, the Celtics will win in 7, over my original pick of the Lakers winning in 6. That's a 2 game swing! Yes, the power of homer-delusion is that strong.

And now, I leave you with a video of the aforementioned McHale-Rambis clothesline. Ah, memories.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Resurrection of the Body: Part III of V

Click here for Part II, here for Part I.

I'm continuing this series with a look at 1 Corinthians 15, which has more to say about resurrection than any other place in the Bible. This is not a very in depth look at the chapter, more of a survey of the main points that concern this topic.

This chapter, in a nutshell, teaches that because Christ rose from the dead, we know that His people will rise from the dead as He did. It does not function primarily as a defense of Christ's resurrection (contrary to some, I tend to think the Corinthians did believe that Jesus rose from the dead- otherwise the foundational argument of vv12-19 makes little sense). 1 Corinthians 15 does give us an idea of what it means for believers to "attain to the resurrection from the dead" (to steal a phrase from Philippians 3:11).

Paul calls Jesus the "firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (v20, also in v23). I've said elsewhere that "first", being an ordinal number, requires a "second", otherwise Paul would say "only." Christ isn't the "only fruit of the dead" but the first, His people are the "secondfruits of those who have fallen asleep." When Christ comes back, "those who belong to Him" will be raised from the dead (v23).

Skipping to v35, Paul begins to give us an idea of what this will look like. He compares the current body to a seed, which will be planted and grow into a better body ("imperishable"- v42). I think where the hangup happens is when he states, "it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (v44). Because we tend to use the word "spiritual" to mean "unseen" or "disembodied", we assume Paul is thinking the same thing. However, that is not the way the Bible understands the word.

"Natural" and "spiritual" do not refer to composition or material (and I'm not sure how a body could be spiritual if it were referring to material composition). First, it's important to note that "natural" is from the word we normally translate "soul." If Paul were talking about the composition of the body (physical as opposed to immaterial), it would be awkward to refer to our present bodies as "soul bodies." Even in context, Paul quotes Gen 2, which states "the first Adam became a living being" (TNIV). "Living being" is the same word as a "soul." Clearly Gen 2 isn't referring to Adam's physical composition, as if it were saying that Adam became a soulish figure as opposed to a physical human being.

I hope I'm being clear here. When Paul contrasts "natural" and "spiritual", he isn't talking about how our physical bodies will someday be rescued from the physical world and brought into a disembodied existence. I stress this because most Christians have the idea that when we die, our souls go to heaven and that's it. But that is not what Paul is saying here. He is saying that there will be a day when Christ will return and our bodies will be raised from the dead in an imperishable body.

“Spiritual” is a term used for Christians elsewhere in Paul. He uses it in 1 Cor 2:15, indicating that there are those who are “spiritual.” Also, Galatians 6:1 instructs those who are “spiritual” to restore a fallen brother. This, coming right after the discussion of the fruit of the Spirit, means those who “live by the Spirit” (as evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit). Again, this is an indication that Paul isn't using "spiritual" to mean "immaterial." If so, those two verses take on an extremely different meaning, one that makes little sense.

What then does it mean to have a “spiritual body”? It means that while we are currently “spiritual”, the Spirit’s present work is not complete. After all, our bodies are still subject to decay. Of course, elsewhere Paul says we have the “firstfruits of the Spirit” (Rom 8:23), implying that there is more of the Spirit to come. Paul also refers to the Spirit as a “deposit” or “down payment” of what is to come (Eph 1:13; 2 Cor 1:22, 5:5). So, it seems that when Christ comes, our entire being- including our bodies- become “spiritual”- completely controlled and animated by the Spirit.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Contemporizing Theology in American Evangelicalism

I just received a copy of Jesus Made in America by Stephen J Nichols (thanks to my new friend, Adrianna of IVP). It'll take a bit before I can actually review it, but I've read the first little bit and have already found it to be an interesting read. He observes that it is natural for Christians to bring their cultural understanding and expressions into their reading and application of the Bible. But, he claims, "there is something peculiar to the tendency to contemporize in American evangelicalism" (10). He lists 4 areas he sees as American tendencies to contemporize, which I'll summarize (these are found on pages 10-12).

"First, American evangelicals reflexively harbor suspicions of tradition." He notes that this tendency "leaves American evangelicals more vulnerable than most when it comes to cultural pressures and influences. In the absence of tradition, we tend to make up a new one, one not tested by time and more or less constructed by individuals or by a limited community."

Second, is the tendency to appeal to sola scriptura, one of the rallying cries of Luther's call for reformation. But, Nichols notes, "the mistaken conclusion is that because American evangelicals hold firmly and prize sola scriptura, it naturally flows that all of the beliefs of American evangelicals naturally flow from the pages of Scripture."

Third, "much of contemporary evangelicalism... operates under the assumption that we are neutral in the acquisition of knowledge. The upshot of all this is that our ideas or beliefs are not held as our ideas or beliefs but as the ideas or beliefs."

Fourth, "American evangelicals are strongly influenced by pietism, which emphasizes personal religious experience, and values devotion and practice over doctrine."

These four tendencies, Nichols claims, "all conspire to make American evangelicals quite susceptible to culture in the shaping of beliefs and interpretation of Scripture."

Now, I suppose it's open to debate that contemporary American evangelicals are any more susceptible to this than any other group of Christians in various times, places and cultures. The questions I ask you: do you think Nichols observations are true? What are the potential outcomes (good or bad) of these tendencies?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Free Book Giveaway

Hey everyone, over at Challies Dot Com there's a promo going for a free book (and other goodies) giveaway from Monergism Books. I've entered and am encouraging you to do so as well. If you click on the banner below, you can earn me more ballots as well as enter yourself. So, in other words, help a brotha out! Thanks to both my readers.

May Giveaway

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The US $, Missions, and Priorities

It's a fairly well known fact that the US Dollar is not doing so well these days. Now, I'm hardly an economist; in fact I don't know a whole lot about money. I've never really had a ton of money to care much about it (though I worry about it at times, I suppose), don't really balance my checkbook, and try to give more than I receive (which is actually impossible when you're on support, but anyway...). But, even I know that when the US $ does poorly, it hurts American overseas missionaries financially. I know of one missionary in India who has not lost a single supporter, but has lost 15% of his support because of the falling buck.

Now, I'd like for one of my economically knowledgeable readers (if I have one) to answer me a question. If the US $ begins to do better, does this necessarily mean that the currencies of other countries will do worse? Logically, it seems that this is true to my simple mind, but I want to be sure. If the US $ takes an upswing, does this automatically mean that other forms of currency (be it from China, the Euro, whatever) will take a plunge?

I ask this because I wonder if we ought not to be praying that the US $ do better for the sake of our missionaries. If it means that the currency of other countries will then do worse, I can't help but think that we shouldn't be praying for this to happen. I shudder to think that our prayers could be so American-centered that we'd actually pray for other countries, including those we send missionaries to, to falter a bit more economically, all for the sake of reaching them with the gospel. Again, I'm not sure this is necessarily true, which is why I asked the question in the above paragraph.

Either way, the success of American money ought not to factor into our missions thinking too much. If our priorities are in order, we wouldn't be shaken by this. Here are two things to keep in mind:

1. The success of the gospel does not ride on the US $ or American missionaries. True, the Lord has used American missionaries in amazing ways to see the Church grow. Yes, these missionaries were funded (more often than not) by faithful Christians giving their (American) money. But let's not fool ourselves into thinking that we are the only show in town. And let's not confuse the tools with the builder. I've worked in home improvement retail- I've seen plenty of builders simply get new tools when their old ones stopped working as well.

2. We can always give more to help our missionaries. I've probably tired some of my friends with my talk of how I've felt an increased conviction to give to others, so I won't belabor the point here. It's amazing how much money we spend on things of little value, all the while passing up opportunities to give to something of eternal relevance. This is true for most of us even in financially difficult times.

At any rate, I'm hoping someone will be able to answer my question above. I'd love to be able to know how to pray. In the meantime, I really need to work on my priorities.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Reader's Hebrew Bible: A Review

After years of playing baseball, I ended up being a pretty decent fielder. I had a much better glove than I did a bat; I found turning a double play easier than hitting a curveball. Part of why I became a good fielder was my hatred of running. You see, in practice during my teen years, my coaches would make us run every time we made an error. Botch a ground ball- start jogging. Overthrow the cutoff man- run some laps. I hated running laps. So, my thought was: I don't want to run, so I'll become a better fielder. It worked well (and I'd like to think I had some natural ability).

I took the same mentality to learning biblical languages in undergrad and in seminary. Most of us studying Greek and Hebrew grew weary of looking words up all the time, especially if you had to bring a huge lexicon with you to the library. There were 2 main options for handling this dilemna: (1) using something like BibleWorks to look up the definitions or (2) learning the vocab necessary to translate. I always felt that option (1) was cheating a bit, and truth be told, most who relied on BibleWorks (or other similar programs) didn't really learn the language. I preferred option (2), though possibly more due to my pride rather than my industrious nature.

, I'll admit to some initial hesitation in using the Reader's Hebrew Bible because it feels a bit like option (1). You see, the RHB gives the Hebrew text (from the Westminster Leningrad Codex), with vocabulary helps. Every word that occurs less than 100 times is footnoted and given a gloss from HALOT and BDB, probably the top 2 Hebrew lexicons around (they do use a couple others, but these are the primary ones). Proper nouns that occur less than 100 times are shaded grey rather than footnoted, which I'll be extremely grateful for if I ever decide to translate Chronicles. (For the Aramaic portions, it's anything used less than 25 times, but I don't know Aramaic so I can't comment on those portions).

my pride and receiving help on the vocab is a good idea for me right now, since my Hebrew has slipped significantly. My understanding of grammar is mostly still there, but that only means so much if you don't know what any of the words mean, right? I started off by reading some of Ruth (which is generally one of the first books Hebrew students translate, often right after Jonah). I was certainly rusty, but the vocab footnotes really helped (and it doesn't hurt that there's a glossary at the back of the book for words used over 100 times- oh how far I've fallen!). Since then I've bounced around a bit to get a feel for different sections (prophets, Psalms) and get the sense that this is a really helpful resource for those of us whose Hebrew vocab has dwindled drastically.

book reviewers talk about the printing and binding and use words like "attractive" or "handsome", but quite frankly, I can't get into that. My wife is attractive. A book is a book. It looks cool, and I feel smarter having it in my possession, and the binding seems strong enough that it won't fall apart any time soon, which is good since it'll be costly to replace. The book is huge (weighing in at 1600+ pages), which means I probably won't be lugging it to church any time soon.

well, this is not really a tool for in depth translation or exegesis. Not to say it isn't useful for that, but the glosses given are possible (largely unnuanced) glosses, it cannot replace doing the hard work of a word/concept study, nor does it include any help in syntax. Also, there is not critical apparatus (textual variants), which one needs in order to do true translation work. There is an appendex that shows the differences between the WTC and the BHS, though that doesn't account for the DSS or the LXX (yes, I used all abbreviations to feel like a VIP, recall Good Morning Vietnam). None of this is a criticism, since that's not the point of the book (otherwise it'd be called A Translator's Hebrew Bible).

this to say, it's a great resource, one I plan on using as I work my way back into the Hebrew language. But, as much as I like it, I hope to graduate back up to my much smaller BHS that doesn't have the vocab helps. I know I'll never reach the point where I'll know all the vocab, but it'd be nice to be able to read without having to stop and look up definition a couple times every verse. I feel like I'm running laps again, and I hate running laps.

: Thanks again to Chris for providing this review copy.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Is it a compliment? Episode IV

Welcome to the newest installment of Is it a compliment? (the most popular game show in the blogosphere), where we look at a statement that someone directed towards me which may or may not be a compliment. Actually, in this case, it's not a statement but rather an action.

I have been teaching a class in church since September, but the other night I mentioned to my class that it would be the last night of the year that I'd be teaching.

One person in the class began to clap.

This is your chance to weigh in. Should I take offense? Or is it a compliment?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

5.5 random things: book wishlist edition

5.5: This post is dedicated to Chris at Zondervan, who recently sent me a couple books to review (just scroll down a couple posts). He now has me thinking about what books I'd love to have (I'm leaving out commentaries). So, here's a completely selfish post, in no particular order.

5: Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ. Don't worry, I'm not needing to be convinced of Jesus' place in the Godhead. But from a teaching perspective, to have a book that is (1) written so non-seminary trained people can read it and (2) contains great insights gleaned from top scholars would be so helpful. I first noticed this book because of those who give their endorsements, which is like reading a Who's Who of evangelical Bible scholars. At any rate, I think this can be a great book that would help so many in the church reap the benefits of scholarly insight without having to learn all the background of theological and exegetical discussions.

4: Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin. Bob Kauflin is involved with Sovereign Grace Ministries who seems (according to reviews I've read) to have written a book that is both theological and practical. As someone who is very interested in how worship through music is used in the church, I think this book has a lot to offer. It is difficult to write theologically yet offer simple advice for how to carry out a worship service. Apparently, Kauflin has succeeded.

3: How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity by Thomas Oden. I want to read this book because it helps correct the Western-centric understanding many of us have of Christian theology. I've grown to love church history, especially as I've learned how much of a role African theologians have played (Augustine, Tertullian, etc). Oden is a top-notch historical theologian, so you know this has to be good.

2: I'm not familiar with the author, but I've heard a lot of good things about Jerry Bridges' Respectable Sins, a look at how we've allowed subtle, "respectable" sins to creep into our life. I think this could be an interesting book for a group study.

1: Stephen Nichols has a book out called Jesus Made In America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to "The Passion of the Christ" that looks very interesting. I'm always fascinated by how culture plays a part in our shaping of how we think of Jesus, this book takes a look at that throughout American history. In my opinion, studying the mistakes of history often helps us understand how we make those same mistakes ourselves. Plus, it looks like this book might be good for a laugh or two.