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.