Tuesday, April 29, 2008

free books & another update

A week ago I had a seemingly random post about the new Reader's Hebrew Bible, and made the statement that I'll write a review if I receive a free copy. That was because there was an offer on Between Two Worlds (Justin Taylor's blog) that if anyone would post about the Reader's Hebrew Bible, promise to write a review and e-mail some guy named Chris at Zondervan- and be one of the first 5 people to do all this- you'd get a free copy. I was the 3rd person. So, Chris at Zondervan agreed to send me a free copy for me to review.

He also mentioned that he might be able to send me other books as well under the same agreement- that I'd review them. So, I may have mentioned in passing that I was really interested in Bruce Waltke's new book, An Old Testament Theology. Well, both books came in the mail today! So, expect reviews of each of these. I'll do the RHB first, since that was the original deal, Waltke's book will probably take a little bit longer, but I am looking forward to reading it. The great part is that I now have an excuse to read books, free ones!

While I'm here, I'd like to point out that I added a new feature to the blog of danny, Joshua Project's Unreached People of the Day. The Joshua Project is an organization that attempts to collect information about people groups around the world and their level of reachedness (I just made up that word). I don't know if their definition of "people group" and "reached" are necessarily the perfect ones, but I like how they are at least trying to bring "definition to the unfinished task" (their words). I hope that maybe you'll take a few moments to pray for each people group as you see them here. May the gospel be preached to all nations in our lifetime!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

why all the hype?

I'm often pretty late to the ballgame when it comes to Christian trends. I don't know any of the newest worship music, except for that which is played in church on Sundays. I don't pay much attention to the newest popular preachers- the Matt Chandlers, Mark Driscolls, and so on. It's nothing personal, it's really more a matter of time. There are so many new things- preachers, worship leaders, books, etc- that I don't have time to keep up. I'd rather allow the business to settle down and I'll wade through the carnage and pick out what I want.

So, I say that to explain a bit about why I've just now read the bestselling book by Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz (published 2003). Some of you, most of you, probably, have read this book by now, perhaps multiple times. I've been saying for some time now that I needed to get around to reading it. As I spend more time teaching in my church, the more I realize I need to be up to speed with what folks are reading. So, consider this a late book review, only it's not really a book review.

You see, the thought that kept coming to my mind as I read this was "why was this book such a big deal?" When I finished the book (which didn't take long, it's a very easy read), I found myself asking the same question.

But I mean that in 2 different ways. I wonder why some folks loved this book so much. Hearing from some made me think this book could be the best thing to happen to American Christianity in recent years. After reading it, I can't help but wonder if that is a tremendous overstatement. But, to talk to some other folks, you'd think this is a dangerous book, one that is fraught with awful theology and destined to lead some to heresy. Got to be honest- don't see that either. Not even close.

Let me say it this way: I found 25% of the book annoying, 25% really insightful, 50% just fine. One minor annoyance was his writing style- I wasn't sure if it was cool or childish. For instance, if he were writing about me, he might write something like this:

One of my friends, Danny the Red Sox Fan, is a good guy. He married this girl, Lisa. Lisa is way out of his league. Danny is obsessive about the Red Sox. Danny also has this blog that no one reads. He writes anyway, maybe because he's bored. I like Danny.

Miller is, at points, very insightful. He'll have an interesting way to look at things, especially on loving the broken and downtrodden. And contrary to what you might think from talking to his detractors, he does in fact believe people need to acknowledge their sin and repent. It seems to me that he emphasizes the need to love people before they get "fixed", not just after. I'd consider that a pretty good idea.

To be sure, there are things I don't like. It'd be easy to walk away from this book thinking that only Christians who cuss, don't like Republicans (or churches that do) and call everything "beautiful" are really cool. I'm not saying that was Miller's intention, but I could see how people might walk away from this book thinking that.

Anyway, I'd thought I'd throw out some thoughts on the complaints I've heard over the last couple years and my thoughts on them. First, is the claim he's simply anti-Republican. Yeah, that's pretty much true, and he has a major problem with churches that "toe the party line." I certainly think he's right that there's a problem when so many Christians are blindly Republican. But I personally find the blindly Democrat just as annoying (perhaps even moreso, since they make the same errors they speak against). But hey, it's his book, he can write what he wants.

Second, some say he doesn't have enough of a developed theology. Again, this is true, though there are some "theological" moments in the book- he just goes about them differently (his section on tithing, for example). For instance, Miller is a firm believer that all people have an inherent "sin nature" (his favorite term). He doesn't go about defending it through Scripture or theological reflections on total depravity. He reiterates the need to repent before God, though doesn't show how one goes from being sinful to being repentant (the regeneration/election of the Calvinist system, or the prevenient grace of Wesley). But again, he isn't pretending to be a theologian, and for some who aren't well-versed in Scripture, especially a non-Christian, he might present the idea better than most of us. No, he's not on the level of C S Lewis, but why should we expect him to be?

Third, some argue that he is too hard on the church. Again, I'll agree with this to an extent. I'm a huge believer in the local church. If I were to write a book of this sorts, I'd have tons to say about how much I love my church, warts and all. But Miller isn't anti-church, he's anti-some-churches. I think he's overly critical. If someone already struggles with anger against the church, this book could feed that.

But, I'd also point out two things. One, as critical as he is of others (and he admits as much), he's just as critical of himself throughout the book. Two, he does find himself a church he loves and is challenged by, and he spends a decent amount of time talking about it. I would have preferred he tempered himself a bit more, though. I guess I just think it's too easy to pick on the church, and a bit too trendy for my tastes. I will say, many who pick on churches will end up saying (in attitude as much as in their words) to non-Christians "but hey, we're not like that, we love Jesus and what we're doing is even better than what they're doing." To his credit, I don't think Miller ever goes that far.

Lastly, I found one part amusing, given the successful nature of the book:

Imago, our church, is made up of mostly artists and fruit nuts and none of us have any money, so Rick [his pastor] said if I was going to be a writer, I needed to write a bestseller so that the church could have some money.

In the end, it's what you would expect out of an autobiographical look on the Christian life (not properly an autobiography). At times I wondered how some of it ever got published. At times I was annoyed by his idiosyncratic outlook. At times I found his take on a subject uniquely refreshing. So read it (I'm sure you can borrow it from someone). Enjoy it. But don't believe the hype- either side of it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Resurrection of the Body: Part II of V

For Part I of this series, click here.

In this post, we're looking briefly at the broader theme of God's restoration of fallen creation, and how resurrection fits into this plan. As always, this isn't an exhaustive look, but more of an overview of the subject in hopes to encourage reflection and further study.

When God first created all things, He proclaimed them “good.” Humans were given the responsibility of caring for the Garden and all living within it. However, Adam & Eve sinned, which damaged not only themselves, but the created order (see Gen 3:17-19). The created order as it presently stands is not the way it's supposed to be- full of decay and destruction.

God has, however, an overarching plan of redemption that includes creation itself. His plan is not simply to redeem individuals and fill heaven with their souls, but His intention is to restore creation (all of it) to what it was created to be. It was good, and it will be good again.

When we look at Romans 8:18-25, we see how God's plan of redemption for creation and mankind is tied together.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Notice that creation is suffering decay, but there will be a time when that will no longer be the case- when the children of God will be revealed. Creation awaits redemption as we ourselves await "our adoption, the redemption of our bodies." Notice that Paul says "redemption of our bodies" rather than "from our bodies." It is not God's act of saving our souls from our bodies that we are to long for, but the salvation of our entire being. Just as human sin ushered decay into the created order, human redemption (the resurrection of believers) ushers in liberation from that decay. (That is not to say, of course, that it is human effort that brings this about- it is God's redemption of mankind.)

We see this again in Revelation 22, where John describes the New Jerusalem. In vv1-5 John says,

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. 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 be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Now, even allowing for metaphorical and symbolic language, it is easy to see the theology of these verses. The comparisons to the Garden of Eden are obvious, but I want to point out two major things. First is the access to the tree of life. In Genesis 3:22-24 God denies Adam and Eve access to the tree of life "and eat and live forever." Expulsion from the Garden and denial of the tree of life are the climax of the curse against humans.

And that leads to the second important point: "No longer will there be any curse." The curse from Genesis 3 (incorporating humans and all of creation) is done away with. All of creation is renewed (and one could even say improved from Genesis 1-2). This is a picture of Paul's language from Romans 8- freedom from the bondage of decay.

In summary, God has a total plan of redemption, one that incorporates all of creation. The Lord will re-create, renew and restore what is broken. The resurrection of God's people ("the redemption of our bodies" in Paul's language in Romans 8) is a part- perhaps, one could say the key part- of that re-creation. We'll look a bit more at that point in the 3rd part of this series.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Reader's Hebrew Bible

For those of us who haven't kept up with their Hebrew as much as we should (sorry, Dr Stuart), then the Reader's Hebrew Bible just might be the thing. It really should help with my ever-shrinking vocabulary, especially. And, if I'm lucky, I just may receive a free copy- I'll even write a review if I do.

HT: Justin Taylor.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Resurrection of the Body: Part I of V

I recently taught through 1 Corinthians in a class at my church, climaxing in my favorite chapter in the Bible- 1 Corinthians 15. I tried to whip some thoughts together on the importance of believing in the resurrection of the body- not just Christ's bodily resurrection, but the coming resurrection of all people. I'm not about to embark on an exhaustive study on this blog, but I'd like to post some thoughts.

I envision this as a 5-part series. This is the first post, simply laying out some thoughts on the issue. Part 2 will look at Romans 8 and Revelation 21-22 to see how the resurrection of the body is a part of God's total work of re-creation. Part 3 will look at 1 Corinthians 15, since this is the NT's longest discussion of the subject. Part 4 will be a quick look at some early Christian writers from the post-NT era, as well as a couple early Christian creeds. Part 5 will deal with the "so what?" question and give some reasons why we should even spend time thinking about this.

I've found that many American Christians (I can't speak for the rest of the world) are not even aware that the Bible teaches that God will raise people from the dead. Many feel that when believers die, they go to heaven and spend eternity there with God. This, however, is not really the teaching of the Bible. This isn't to deny that believers go to heaven when they die, it's just to say that the NT teaches that there is more to expect beyond this. As N T Wright has said (countless times at this point), the NT is concerned with "life after life after death", unlike we who tend to await "life after death."

While I'm tempted to pontificate why this lack of reflection exists, I think I'll spare everyone. I'll just simply note that this topic is largely ignored and I'd like to see that changed for reasons that will come up in the following posts (which may, of course, take me a few weeks to put up). I invite my reader(s) to comment as we go, though understand that no one post will contain everything within it. I will endeavor to explain what the NT teaches without forcing you to spend hours of your day scrolling through paragraphs of repetition.

I'll be dealing with the resurrection of believers more than unbelievers, for 2 main reasons. First, the Bible doesn't say much about the resurrection of unbelievers, but it says enough for us to know it will happen. Second, my audience is mostly Christian, and I want to encourage us through this study more than anything else.

And who knows, before I'm done working on this series, Christ Himself may return and we'll experience rather than reflect on what Daniel prophesied (12:2): "Multitudes who sleep in the dust will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt." I would welcome the interruption.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

5.5 random things: youtube edition

5.5. This edition of 5.5 random things is dedicated to youtube, the greatest waste of time in modern history.

5. I don't know if you've heard of Improv Everywhere, but they do some funny stuff. Here's my favorite, you can follow the links to check out the rest of their videos.

4. I think I mentioned this a long time ago, but here's a fan video for Jars of Clay's song Mirrors and Smoke, which is one of my favorites.

3. Here at blog of danny, we won't sell out to any sponsor. But if we did, we'd want this kid doing our commercials.

2. Back in the day, the Boston Bruins were know as the Big Bad Bruins. Here's a 80 second clip to give you an idea, capped off by John Wensink challenging the entire Minnesota North Star bench to a fight (there were no takers).

1. Finally, for a little theology, here's a fun 43 second video entitled John Piper is Bad.