Sunday, August 29, 2010

I'm Moving to WordPress

I'm really excited to tell you that I've decided to move this blog to WordPress.  You can find the new URL here.  Thanks to Paul Adams for all the help he gave to help me make the transition.  I've got a little more tweaking to do but I'm very happy with the results.  Also, thanks to Jeff from Scripture Zealot for the final push to make the move.  If you're a follower of this blog you'll need to make the changes to your system with the new URL.  This blog will remain up till the end of November.  I hope you'll all join me at my new location.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Have You Heard of the 17:18 Series?

A friend of mine at Reformation Heritage Books recently gave me a copy of something new called a "Journible."  It is part of the "17:18 Series" which is based off of the verse in Deuteronomy 17 where the king is commanded to write out a copy of the law.  Each Journible is a blank journal with space to write out a book of the Bible.  I chose the Gospel of John.  I would have picked the Gospel of Mark but it is not available yet (no, not because it's smaller than John but because that's where my interest has been recently).

How do you use it?  Here's how the catalog describes it
"Each book is organized so that you can write out your very own copy of Scripture.  You will be writing the Bible text only on the right hand page of the book. This should make for easier writing and also allows ample space on the left page to write your own notes and comments. From time to time a question or word will be lightly printed on the left page; these questions are to aid in further study, but should not interfere with your own notes and comments."
Writing out Scripture forces you to slow down and read the text carefully.  I'm looking forward to the "journey." 

To date the only books available are: The Gospel of John, Romans, Proverbs, 1 Timothy - Hebrews (together in one volume) and Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (together in one volume).  They retail for only $13.00. 

These would make great gifts when completed to hand down to your children or grandchildren as they read through these books and see what their parent or grandparent thought as they went through the book.  This could also be used in a small group to enhance whatever study guide they might be using. 

Law vs. Gospel: What's the Distinction?

A number of years ago I did a book table for a group of Lutheran pastors. I had the pleasure of sharing a table with some of them over dinner and was just sitting back and enjoying the conversation. Rick Warren’s The Purpose Drive Life was reaching its peak in sales and came up in one of the discussions. I remember one of the pastors leaning over to another pastor and said “I’m surprised how many of my fellow Lutheran pastors are doing this. Don’t they realize that it’s all just law?” I had no idea what he was talking about. I remember thinking, “What “law”? I don’t remember reading about any law in the book. Were we even talking about the same book?” I was completely lost. Since then I’ve read a bit more on the distinction between law and gospel which is common to Lutheran and reformed circles. The September/October 2010 issue of Modern Reformation is dedicated to the distinction between law and gospel. Michael Horton quotes Theodore Beza with full acceptance saying “ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the principle sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity.” (12) Horton notes that in recent years people have said it is just a Lutheran axiom. But, he says, they are wrong because they have misunderstood the point. The distinction was held by Calvin, Beza, Knox and Cranmer and many other reformers as well. In an article by Sean Norris, “An Introduction to the Law and the Gospel” he talks about what his Christian life was like prior to his understanding this important distinction:
“My faith was dependent on my experience and emotions, which meant that I really had to work hard to keep the experience going. It was important to feel close to the Lord at all times because that was the primary indicator of a good relationship with him. What did that look like? The usual: experiencing an intimate time of worship (warm fuzzy feelings or being brought to tears), a regular quiet time (reading the Bible), journaling, and so on. This outward show was extended to abstaining from the usual vices: swearing, gossiping, making fun of people, envying, lusting, and on, and on, and on. This was a depressing and scary way to live because I was never successful.”  (8)
But then he learned of the distinction between Law and Gospel. In essence, the Law is simply the rules. The Law contains the demands of God and a continual diet of nothing but law leads a person to think “If I can just change my behavior, then I will change who I am.” But Norris says “The law is not the tool we use to get better because we can never use it to improve ourselves; this was never its function.” We may try but we don’t even come close. The good news is that the law is not ours to fulfill rather it is for Jesus to fulfill. The Gospel is the good news of what Christ has done for us. What difference does this make in our Christian life? Norris says,
“our relationship with God does not depend on us; rather, it rests solely on the completed work of Jesus Christ at the cross. When we understand this about our relationship, the result is that we can rest. We can finally have peace. Our efforts to preserve a relationship with God can stop. Our motivations for our study of the Bible, prayer, and worship can come not out of fear of punishment or separation from God but out of joy of security in God’s faithfulness to us shown in his Son, Jesus, so that we are inspired to grateful living.” (11)
He says, “Considering both the law and gospel kills the notion that the Bible is a manual for living—a view commonly held today. If the Bible were such a manual, Christianity would be all about what we do. Instead, the Bible is God’s active Word in our lives.” (10)

Just when I’m starting to warm up to this and say, “Amen brother, you preach it and I’ll turn the pages” I find that one of my favorite reformed writers, John Frame, does not like the distinction. He observes that the gospel includes law and law includes gospel. He says,
“So the definitions that sharply separate law and gospel break down on careful analysis. In both law and gospel, God proclaims his saving work and demands that his people respond by obeying his commands. Law and gospel differ in emphasis, but they overlap and intersect. They present the whole Word of God from different perspectives. Indeed, we can say that our Bible as a whole is both law (because as a whole it speaks with divine authority and requires belief) and gospel (because as a whole it is good news to fallen creatures). Each concept is meaningless apart from the other. Each implies the other.” (The Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 187)
Norris quotes C. F. W. Walther’s book The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel which said “the Gospel contains no demand, only the gift of God’s grace and truth in Christ.” (10)  But Frame points out that Scripture says people must “obey the gospel” (2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:17) and that the “gospel itself requires a certain kind of conduct (Acts 14:15; Gal. 2:14; Phil. 1:27; cf. Rom. 2:16). (185)  That would seem to imply some kind of "demand" to my thinking.

As I continue to read the magazine I find an article by Brian Thomas on the Sermon on the Mount.  He quotes David Scaer's book The Sermon on the Mount:
"The message of the Sermon is not a demand, driving the Christian to an impossible moral perfection, but it comes to the Christian as a demand fulfilled already in Christ and which is now made possible for believers, since it has first reached its demands in Christ." (35)
But most enlightening are a series of sidebars with selections from The Word of God and Preaching by Cornelis Veenhof (1902 - 1983) who was a professor and pastor in the Dutch Separated Reformed Church.  The excerpts are translated by Nelson D. Kloosterman.  Here I found some careful nuancing that I think Frame would be very comfortable with.  Here's a couple of examples:
"Gospel and law are two aspects of the one, indivisible Word of God." (30)
"Moreover, gospel and law are intimately united.  One could say that from start to finish every gospel-word is also law-word.  For the gospel as such is always a passionate summons to faith." (34)
"Law and gospel proceed simultaneously from God's mouth, so that as a result the law can be heard, understood and believed in no other way than in its unbreakable unity with the gospel.  Especially the demand of faith presupposes the gospel and its proclamation.  To be sure, this demand is embodied in and flows out of the gospel and as a consequence can be heard and obeyed in no other way than in and with the gospel."  (36)
"Finally, we must mention that talking about 'gospel and law' entails a serious danger.  The unintentional consequence of this way of talking is that the evangelical and law aspects of God's Word are still viewed as two independent entities that must be brought together and held in balance."  (36)
"At the same time Paul insists with great emphasis that the gospel is preached in order to be obeyed (2 Thess. 1:8).  In this connection he speaks of the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1:27).  By that he means that the gospel's purpose is faith, to push for a decision of faith, and conversely, that faith is totally and completely directed toward the gospel. . . One can similarly disobey the gospel (Rom. 10:16).  For those who are disobedient--they are those who are perishing--the gospel is veiled."  (40)
The issue fascinates me.  If you have any suggested readings I would love to hear about them.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Annual Used Book Sale - August 31 - September 11, 2010

Our annual used book sale is quickly approaching.  From August 31 - September 11 all used books will be 30% off.  You don't want to miss it.  With more than 90,000 volumes in stock we might just have that book you've been looking for.  If you call be sure to mention the sale in order to get the discount.  Our toll free number is 1-866-241-6733. 


Thursday, August 26, 2010

In Store Now - A Place for Truth

I've been reading bits and pieces of a new book from IVP called A Place for Truth edited by Dallas Willard and it is very good.  Here's the catalog description:
Many today pursue knowledge and even wisdom. But what about truth? In an age that disputes whether truth can be universalized beyond one's own personal experience, it seems quaint to speak of finding truth. But whether in the ivory towers of the academy or in the midst of our everyday lives, we continue to seek after the true, the beautiful and the good.
Since its founding at Harvard in 1992, The Veritas Forum has provided a place for the university world to explore the deepest questions of truth and life. What does it mean to be human? Does history have a purpose? Is life meaningful? Can rational people believe in God? Now gathered in one volume are some of The Veritas Forum's most notable presentations, with contributions from Francis Collins, Tim Keller, N. T. Wright, Mary Poplin and more. Volume editor Dallas Willard introduces each presentation, highlighting its significance and putting it in context for us today. Also included are selected question and answer sessions with the speakers from the original forum experiences.
Come eavesdrop on some of today's leading Christian thinkers and their dialogue partners. And consider how truth might find a place in your own life.
I enjoyed this snippet from the life of Os Guiness
When I was a student, my own field was the social sciences, but as an undergraduate one of the things I was very interested in was philosophy.  And back in the early 1960s, the influence of the Vienna Circle and logical positivism was still enormously powerful in the British universities, particularly the thought of A. J. Ayer, who extolled the verification principle: we have to judge types of claims.  Analytical claims, for instance, 'All bachelors are male,' were accepted automatically because the end of the conclusion was written into the assumption.  But other claims had to be verified through the five senses, or they were dismissed as nonsense. . . those who know philosophy know well what happened.  His verification principle itself could not be verified through the five senses.  In other words, the principle itself was nonsense! 
Years later, when I was at Oxford and A. J. had retired, I found myself on the train with him for an hour one day.  We were chatting over his life, and he said to me, 'That whole verification principle of skepticism was a blind alley.'  Then he said, 'Any debunker ought to be force in public to wield his own debunking sword over his own cherished beliefs.
That's exactly right.  He wielded a sword and wiped out all sorts of things.  And then someone returned the favor, and his principle collapsed overnight." (50)
Beautiful! 

Here's the table of contents:

Foreword By Harry Lewis, Harvard University
Preface By Daniel Cho, Executive Director, The Veritas Forum
Introduction By Dallas Willard

Truth
1 Is There Life After Truth?
Richard John Neuhaus
2 Time For Truth
Os Guinness
3 Reason for God: The Exclusivity of Truth
Timothy J. Keller

Faith and Science
4 The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
Francis S. Collins
5 The New Atheists and the Meaning of Life
Alister McGrath and David J. Helfand
6 A Scientist Who Looked and Was Found
Hugh Ross

Atheism
7 The Psychology of Atheism
Paul C. Vitz
8 Nietzsche Versus Jesus Christ
Dallas Willard

Meaning and Humanity
9 Moral Mammals: Does Atheism or Theism Provide the Best Foundation for Human Worth and Morality?
Peter Singer and John Hare
10 Living Machines: Can Robots Become Human?
Rodney Brooks and Rosalind Picard
11 The Sense of an Ending
Jeremy S. Begbie

Christian Worldview
12 Simply Christian
N. T. Wright

Social Justice
13 Why Human Rights Are Impossible Without Religion
John Warwick Montgomery
15 Radical Marxist, Radical Womanist, Radical Love: What Mother Teresa Taught Me about Social Justice
Mary Poplin
15 The Whole Gospel for the Whole Person
Ronald J. Sider

The book is a paperback with 323 pages and sells for $20.00. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Free Study Notes by Craig Keener on Biblical Interpretation

Thanks to the Boston Bible Geeks for bringing to our attention the availability of study notes by Craig Keener for a beginner's class he did in Africa on Biblical Interpretation.  They are made available through The Pneuma Foundation.  The notes are in pdf form and, if printed, come to 88 pages.  It is also available in a zip file (link is available at Boston Bible Geeks). I did a quick scan and they look very good.  Of course, I would expect nothing less from Keener.   Here are a few paragraphs in discussing the importance of context:
"Many people assume that the thief in John 10:10 is the devil, but they assume this because they have heard this view many times, not because they examined the text carefully in context. Of course, the devil does come to steal, to kill, and to destroy; but we often quote the verse this way and miss the text’s direct applications because we have not stopped to read the verse in context.
When Jesus speaks of “the thief,” he speaks from a larger context of thieves, robbers, wolves, and strangers who come to harm the sheep (10:1, 5, 8, 10, 12). In this context, those who came before Jesus, claiming his authority, were thieves and robbers (10:8); these tried to approach the sheep without going through the shepherd (10:1). This was because they wanted to exploit the sheep, whereas Jesus was prepared to die defending his sheep from these thieves, robbers, and wolves.
The point becomes even clearer if we start further back in the context. In chapter 9, Jesus heals a blind man and the religious officials kick the blind man out of the religious community for following Jesus. Jesus stands up for the formerly blind man and calls the religious leaders spiritually blind (9:35-41). Because there were no chapter breaks in the original Bible, Jesus’ words that continue into chapter 10 are still addressed to the religious leaders. He declares that He is the true Shepherd and the true sheep follow His voice, not the voice of strangers (10:1-5). Those who came before Him were thieves and robbers, but Jesus was the sheep’s true salvation (10:8-9). The thief comes only to destroy, but Jesus came to give life (10:10).
In other words, the thief represents the false religious leaders, like the Pharisees who kicked the healed man out of their synagogue. The background of the text clarifies this point further. In Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 34, God was the shepherd of His scattered people, His sheep; these Old Testament passages also speak of false religious leaders who abused their authority over the sheep like many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day and not a few religious leaders in our own day." (11)
There is some really rich material here. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Islamophobic," "Rhetorical McCarthyism" and "Christophobic": When Labels Replace Dialogue

Francis Beckwith has written an excellent response to Time magazine's latest issue where it asks if America is Islamophobic.  Here's part of what he wrote:
"There is, of course, no actual ailment called 'Islamophobia,' as there is with claustrophobia and arachnophobia. The latter two are diagnosable irrational fears that people acquire for a variety of reasons. The first is a rhetorical invention intended to marginalize factions of the American public so that the rest of us will feel shamed into believing we should not take our fellow citizens seriously. It is, in short, an argument stopper, and thus is meant to undermine and not advance rational discourse on a matter of public controversy. This is not say, of course, that there are not people who in fact hold false and bigoted beliefs about Islam, just as there are people who hold false and bigoted beliefs about Catholicism, Protestantism and Mormonism. But it should go without saying that offering critical comments about a religion or its beliefs and practices is not automatically the result of inaccurate observations and/or bigotry. For if that were the case, then the worst bigots in the world would be the New Atheists who maintain that all religious beliefs and practices are not only false but harmful. Because the New Atheists seem to be the darlings of the Time magazine set, one can only conclude that the difference between a bigot and a respected intellectual is that the former rejects one less belief than the latter. This results in the amusing judgment that it is intolerant and bigoted to believe one religious belief is true and all others false, but the pinnacle of tolerance to believe that none are true and all are false. This is, of course, perfectly stupid, though considered the height of sophistication by the most cerebral custodians of our public culture. This is why they prefer power over reason; they can only win with the former but not the latter.
If there's one thing you can always count on in contemporary America, it is this: some enterprising political spin doctor will invent a short-hand insult (disguised as an assessment of your sub-rational motives, as if they can actually be known) in order to insulate his own opinion from legitimate criticism. In fact, I have a name for it: 'Rhetorical McCarthyism.' Now, if anyone calls you 'Islamophobic,' you can then accuse them of 'Rhetorical McCarthyism.' That evens the playing field so that perhaps a rational discussion may break out. It can happen."
This reminded me of something I recently read in Bradley R. E. Wright's book Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites . . . and Other Lies You've Been Told which is equally incisive: 
"As a side note, it's interesting that there isn't a well-accepted term for prejudice against Christians, an absence that may reflect an unwillingness to condemn it.  Maybe we need to come up with such a word.  Any suggestions?  How about 'Christophobic'--an irrational fear of the Christian gospel and those who believe in it."  (184)
Would Time ever ask if America is Christophobic?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Keeping Your Church Legal With Its Contributions

I subscribe to a monthly newsletter from the Christian Law Association (CLA). In the August issue they had a “Ministry Q & A” which I found very interesting. Here’s what it said:

Q: Why does my church need to put the phrase ‘All donations are non-binding suggestions’ on their giving envelopes?

A: Alerting contributors that their designated offerings are considered by the church to be non-binding suggestions helps both the church and the contributor. It allows churches to use the designated funds for a possible church financial emergency without violating legal requirements for implied trusts. An implied trust is the legal requirement to use any designated funds only for their designated purpose. Even if a church were to borrow designated contributions for a financial emergency and later replace the entire amount, the legal requirements for implied trust would be violated.

Treating designated contributions as suggestions also assures that the contributor will be able to get a tax deduction for the gift. Unless the church has full control of donated funds and has the discretion to use the funds as needed, the monetary gift may not be tax-deductable for the contributor.

If you’d like to know more about this issue you can contact the CLA office at 727-399-8300.  You can find their website here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

John Dickson on the Spanish Inquisition and the North Ireland Conflict

John Dickson is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. I just finished Life of Jesus which is due out any day now. In one of the chapters he covers the now common complaint from the New Atheists that Christianity inherently perpetuates violence. He looks at two events in particular: the Spanish Inquisition and the North Ireland conflict. Here’s how he puts it:
“The Spanish Inquisition is often thought to be Christianity at its most bloodthirsty with hundreds of thousands of heretics killed (trawl the Internet and you will even find estimates of a million or more). However, it is 350-year history, the Spanish Inquisition probably killed around 6,000 people. That comes out at eighteen deaths a year. Of course, one a year-one ever-is too much, but the figure hardly sustains the monstrous narratives we often hear. Or take the iconic Northern Ireland conflict. The thirty-year ‘troubles’ led to the deaths of fewer than 4,000 people. Again, one death ‘in the name of Christ’ is a blasphemy, but how did the Northern Ireland conflict ever come to symbolize the ferocity of the church? Compare it with the thoroughly secular French Revolution. As many people were executed in the name of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ in a single year of the Revolution (the ‘Terror’ of September 1793-July 1794) as were killed in the entire three decades of the ‘troubles.’ And I am still in favour of liberty, equality and fraternity.
And this is my second problem with the complaint of Hitchens and others. The violence of Christendom is dwarfed by that of non-religious causes, such as World War I (8,000,000 deaths) and World War II (35,000,000 deaths). Then there is the very awkward fact that the twentieth century’s three great atheistic regimes were hotbeds of unrestrained violence. Joseph Stalin’s openly atheistic project killed at least 20,000,000 people, which is more people each week than the Spanish Inquisition killed in its entire 350-year history. Pol Pot, another avowed atheist, is known to have slaughtered 2,000,000 people out of a population of 8,000,000. I must emphasize that this is not to claim that atheists are more violent than Christians. It simply underlines that violence is a perennial human problem, not a specifically religious one. And those like Christopher Hitchens who suggest that these communist regimes were quasi-religious in their zeal and so provide further evidence of the pernicious effect of religion have abandoned sincere investigation into the problem and settled upon crass anti-religious apologetics. Better to state the obvious: religion or irreligion can inspire hatred.” (68-69)
Amen and amen!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Translating Words with Punctuation

Earlier this week I told you about a book I'm reading on the subject of Bible translation.  And God Said is written by a linguist and expert in Hebrew, Dr. Joel Hoffman. Last time we looked at the issue of italics and Hoffman explained how it was not only not necessary but misleading to the reader.  This time the issue is how the advancement of punctuation affects translations.
"One of the most common words in the Hebrew Bible is leimor. The word literally means 'to say,' and it's most commonly translated as 'saying.'  This is where we get (terrible) translations like, 'God spoke unto Moses, saying . . .' Let's look at the context of leimor and see if we can't figure out what it really means.   
The first thing we see about leimor is that it is indeed used for things that are said.  It's used for what people say, as in Genesis 27:6 (to pick one of many examples at random): 'And Rebekah spake unto Jacob her son, saying [leimor], Behold, I heard thy father speak unto Esau thy brother, saying [leimor] . . .' (KJV) or, more colloquially (and accurately), 'Rebekah said to her son Jacob, 'I heard your father say to your brother Esau . . .'" (NRSV).  The word is also used for what God says, as in Genesis 1:22 'And God blessed them, saying [leimor], Be fruitful, and multiply . . .' (KJV) or 'God blessed them, saying [leimor], 'Be fruitful . . .'" (NRSV and NAB).
But it's also used for songs, as in Exodus 15:1: 'Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying [leimor], I will sing . . ." (KJV).  Here the KJV has a problem, because in English songs aren't 'said'; they're sung.  The NRSV and NAB do better: 'Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: 'I will sing . . .'"
The word is also used for questions, as in Genesis 37:15: 'And the man asked him, saying [leimor], What seekest thou?" (KJV).  Again the KJV has a problem, because in English one doesn't say questions; one asks them.
But a picture begins to emerge.  The word leimor is used for questions, statements, songs, blessings, commandments, etc.  In fact, leimor is used for anything that involves direct quotation.  Indeed, it introduces direct quotation.  We don't have a word like that in English, but quotation marks is to mark direct quotations.  This is why the NRSV correctly uses quotation marks where the KJV has the misleading (that is, wrong) translation 'saying.'  (Surprisingly, the authors of the NRSV, who seem to have understood leimor, still get it wrong sometimes in translation, as we just saw in Genesis 1:22). 
English quotation marks can be used for words of a speech, question, song, whatever.  So, too, the Hebrew leimor was used for any direct quotation.  So leimor doesn't mean 'saying . . .' at all.  It means, 'comma, quote. . . ""  (37-38)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Conversations on Being a Heretic

Ever wondered what Brian McLaren believes?  You're not alone.  Here's a interview between him and Scot McKnight. 


Q | Conversations on Being a Heretic from Q Ideas on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Were There Guards at Jesus’ Tomb?

I’ve always been intrigued by Matthew’s account of the guards at the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 27:62-66). In this clip we have an interview by John Ankerberg of William Lane Craig on the issue. It’s interesting that Craig begins by saying this question would probably be “best left out of the program since the vast, vast majority of New Testament scholars would regard Matthew’s guard story as unhistorical.” He continues, “I can hardly think of anybody who would defend the historicity of the guard at the tomb story.”



D. A. Carson in his commentary on Matthew in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary gives five reasons in favor of the historicity of the event. (By the way, the revised edition of this commentary is slated to appear this October.  The old edition had Matthew thru Luke.  The revised edition will only be Matthew and Mark.)  On the two issues that Craig gives why some doubt the historicity of the story, it’s only recorded in Matthew and this makes it appear as if the Jewish authorities understood the resurrection predictions which from all accounts prior to the resurrection the disciples themselves did not understand, Carson explains:
“Matthew has regularly given information in the passion narrative that the other evangelists omit (e.g., 27:19, 34-35, 62-63); and it is methodologically wrong to doubt the historicity of all details that lack multiple attestation—not least because such ‘multiple attestation’ may sometimes go back to one literary source.”
“The objection that this scene is implausible because it shows the Jewish leaders believing something the disciples themselves cannot yet believe is insubstantial. They may have heard something on the content on 16:21; 17:9; 20:19 from Judas. Whatever the source of their information, they certainly do not believe Jesus prediction, they are merely afraid of fraud—a fear fostered perhaps by the report that Jesus’ body, against all judicial custom had been taken down from the cross and returned to Jesus’ disciples by Joseph and Nicodemus. This could also account for the delay in the request to post a guard (v. 64). The disciples disbelieved Jesus’ words about rising again, not because they could not understand the plan words, but because they had no frame of reference capable of integrating a dying and rising Messiah into their own messianic expectations.” (585-86)
There are a number of these clips on YouTube of John Ankerberg and William Lane Craig.  All are very short but very good.  Here's two more that are must viewing.



Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Clark Pinnock (1937 - 2010)

Noted theologian Clark Pinnock passed away this past Sunday.  See here for more details and some thoughtful and endearing comments.  We will keep his family and friends in prayer. 

July 2010 Best Sellers

Here are the top ten best sellers for my department.  We'll start with number ten and work up to number one. 

#10 - Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens (Zondervan)


#9 - Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe by Mark Driscoll (Crossway)


#8 - Reason for God by Tim Keller (Dutton)


#7 - Jesus: Tthe Only Way to God - Must You Hear the Gospel to be Saved? by John Piper (Baker Publishing Group)


#6 - Calvin's Commentaries (Baker Publishing Group)


#5 - Be Real by Warren Wiersbe (Cook Communications)


#4 - Has Christianity Failed You? by Ravi Zacharias (Zondervan)


#3 - Learn the Bible in 24 Hours by Chuck Missler (Thomas Nelson)


#2 - Evidence for God ed. by William Dembski and Michael Licona (Baker Publishing Group)


#1 - Why I am a Christian ed. by Norman Geisler and Paul Hoffman (Baker Publishing Group)

Monday, August 16, 2010

On the Use of Italics in Bible Translations

I’m reading a book by Joel H. Hoffman called And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible’s Original Meaning. Hoffman holds a Ph.D. in linguistics and has served on the faculties of Brandeis University and Hebrew Union College. One of the issues he discusses is the use of italics in translations to indicate words that are not in the original text. This is not a common feature in modern translations but was very common, and inconsistently used, in the King James Version. His discussion is very good.  (Incidentally, the Geneva Bible was the first Bible to use italics.)
“Linguists know that there are two kinds of languages. One kind, like English, almost always requires a subject. When the subject is the one doing the verb, as in ‘God said,’ every language includes a subject. But the question arises of what happens when on one or nothing in particular is the one doing the verb. The answer is that, in languages such as English that required a subject, a pleonastic subject serves as the subject of the sentence. In English, the pleonastic subject is usually the word ‘it’ or ‘there.’
The clearest example in English is ‘It is raining.’ The ‘it’ is not ‘raining.’ Rather, the pleonastic ‘it’ is included in English only because English always requires a subject. Similarly, we see a pleonastic ‘there’ in ‘There is no reason to panic.’
French, which behaves like English, similarly requires a subject even when the subject isn’t doing the verb. ‘It’s raining’ in French is il pleut. Il—a pleonastic subject here—means ‘it’ or (‘he’), and pleut means ‘rain.’
Other languages do not require a subject. Spanish is such a language. Accordingly, the Spanish equivalent of ‘It’s raining’ or il pleut is the one word llueve—literally, ‘rains.’
How should llueve be translated into English? Obviously, the only reasonable answer is ‘It’s raining.’ Italicizing the ‘it’s,’ or marking in some other way the difference between English and Spanish grammar, would do only that: mark a difference in grammar. It would not make the translation more accurate or in any other way better.
Hebrew is like Spanish. It does not require a subject. That’s why ‘There will-be light’ in Hebrew (y’hi or) doesn’t have a word for ‘there’ and literally ends up ‘will-be light.’
The KJV gets this right and, perhaps surprisingly in light of Genesis 1:4, does not italicize anything in Genesis 1:3, offering as a translation the fairly accurate ‘And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.’
Unfortunately, in the very next line, the word ‘it’ is italicized: ‘And God saw the light, that it was good. . . .’ Like ‘there’ in the previous line, there is nothing unusual about ‘it’ (or ‘was,’ for that matter). There is nothing missing in the Hebrew. There is nothing extra in the English. And italicizing ‘it’ leaves the English reader with the mistaken impression that the ‘it’ is somehow less a part of the original than other words.
From the point of view of studying Hebrew grammar, there might be some merit to that claim. The italicized ‘it’ might remind students of Hebrew that Hebrew doesn’t require pleonastic subjects, whereas English does. But from the point of view of translation, it’s simply a mistake. It leaves the English reader not with a better understanding of the original but with a misunderstanding of the original.” (73-74)
I'll give another example later this week. 

And God Said is a hardcover from Thomas Dunne Books with 256 pages and sells for $25.99.   Walter Brueggemann says this of Hoffman's work
"Hoffman is wise and gentle as he exhibits the issue of distortion by way of translation.  Short of all readers learning Hebrew, Hoffman's work is the best gift for a careful reader of a text that defies easy contemporary rendering." 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Be Still and Know That I Am God - What Does it Really Mean?

For as long as I can remember I've heard this verse cited with the encouragement that God is telling us to be still and make ourselves aware of who he really is.  In that time of "stillness" we will experience God in ways that could not be done apart from being still.  I came across this again in something I read recently so I thought I would look up what John Goldingay had to say in his commentary on the Psalms in the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms.  I found part of it surprising and part of it alarming. I put in italics what surprised me and in bold what alarmed me. 
"'Be still and know that I am God' is a common invitation in Christian spirituality.  This involves a reinterpretation of the psalm.  Nowhere do the psalms have an ideal of silence.  Their assumption is that one finds God not in silence but in noise.  In noisy Western cultures, we may need to cultivate silence, and the use of the psalm to this end may be inspired by the Holy Spirit, even though it does make the words mean something that the psalmist did not say and would not have dreamed of saying.  Spirit-inspired interpretation often works by making the words of Scripture mean something quite different from what they actually meant, because new situations make it necessary for God to say new things.  At the same time, we have to be wary of missing what the text actually did say.  Here it issues an important challenge to the superpower to stand still and recognize that God is God and that the superpower is not."  (vol. 2, p. 73)
I was surprised, though not terribly so, to see that the verse taken from its context had acquired a life of its own and had taken on meanings not found in the text.  But then Goldingay goes on to offer a justification for this very practice.  As it turns out "spirit-inspired interpretation" can make "the words of Scripture mean something quite different from what they actually meant."  Now he is not writing a book on hermeneutics so I understand him not going into much detail on this point but this seems to open a pandora's box for subjective interpretations under the guise of "spirit-inspired interpretation."  I appreciate his caution that we should "be wary of missing what the text actually did say" but couldn't some one say "What does it matter what it originally said since I have a spirit-inspired interpretation that is not confined to the original meaning?"  At the end of the day what is there to be wary of?  I suppose if you're trying to say what it originally meant then the caution is applicable but with that out of the way the door is open to just about any thing that fits my fancy since a new situation may be making it necessary for God to say something new.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

When the Church is All About You

This may be a parody but there is probably a little bit of truth in it for some churches.   

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Small Group Workshop - Reflections

Today was our small group workshop and I was very happy with it.  We had a little over twenty people attend and they took copious notes which is always good to see.  Andrew Rogers presented materials from Zondervan and I highlighted some others from various other publishers.  The one that seemed to draw the most attention was a forthcoming Zondervan book by John Dickson called Life of Jesus.  Andrew gave me an advanced reading copy and I started it tonight--it is simply amazing what a great writer Dickson is.  The preface (it's not titled that but it comes before chapter one) is entitled "The Way We Believe (or What I Learnt from Aristotle)."  He explains that over a millennia ago Aristotle wrote about how people form their beliefs.  It is basically a combination of three factors: logos (the intellectual dimension), pathos (the personal or emotional dimension) and ethos (the social dimension).  He explains that no one "embraces faith in Jesus Christ based solely on factual evidence."  Rather when Christians tell how they became a Christian "they will often mention an intellectual component, a personal component and a social component."  (13)  On the other hand, he is fascinated in "the way sceptics of religion will not admit that they are sceptics for the same combination of reasons.  Instead, they claim to resist Christianity for logical reasons only."  But with some gentle probing he finds they usually admit that it is more complex than first acknowledged. 
"An event in the past called into question the fairness or existence of the Almighty. A Christian they once knew turned out to be an ugly hypocrite and it spoiled their appreciation of anything coming out of the mouth of believers.  Personal and social factors prove important for unbelief, after all." 
Dickson then explains that he will lay out some
"robust arguments for the life and significance of Jesus, but I have no intention of hiding the fact that some of what follows appeals to the personal and social dimensions of our lives.  After all, if there is a God, surely he would expect his truth not only to be factually verifiable but also personally satisfying and socially relevant."  (14) 
Dickson is fresh, very easy to read and imminently reasonable.  He writes with the precision of a philosopher and the heart of a pastor.  You can read the first chapter, "The God-Question," here

But, back to the workshop.  One question that came up consistently was the level of "homework" that a particular study guide might have.  One lady commented that she was having a hard time motivating the group to complete the homework while another said her group thrived on it.  The question is an important one and studies can vary significantly from no homework at all to work to do every day of the week.  We provide a packet which features many of the study guides we talk about and many more (this year's packet featured more than 40 different study guides).  Next year I'm going to add a category stating the level of homework involved: none, light, moderate or heavy.  I think this will be a valuable addition to the information packet. 

The attendees provided some very kind comments and seemed genuinely appreciative of our efforts.  That makes all the work worth it to know it is helping.  I'm taking the workshop "on the road" for a couple of churches who could not attend but asked if we could come and do a short presentation in their church.  We've done this in the past and are happy to accommodate the needs of these churches.  If your church would like us to come and do a presentation give us a call and we'll work out the details.  We do ask that a minimum of ten people can attend.  The phone number to the store is 616-957-3110 or toll free 866-241-6733. 

Thanks to all of you who were able to come out.  May God richly bless your studies in the coming year.  Till next year!  Here's the cover for Dickson's new book.  It will be a paperback with 208 pages and sell for $12.99.  A DVD will also be available which will sell for $19.99. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Small Group Workshop Tomorrow

Here's a final reminder that our Small Group Workshop will be tomorrow in the store at 10:00 a.m.  If your a small group leader, member of a small group or are looking for that next study guide to do on your own this could be just what your looking for.  We have prepared a packet featuring over 30 of the newest study guides that have come out in the past year and some that are forthcoming.  We will cover some of those in more detail during the workshop.  Andrew Rogers from Zondervan has generously offered some of his time to show us some exciting new product.  I will discuss about six or so other items and then we will open it for questions.  Special discounts will be available and we're giving away some great door prizes.  It will only go about an hour so it won't take too much out of your busy day.  I look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Can You Distinguish God From the Devil?: Roger Olson and the Problem with Calvinism

Roger E. Olson, a Christian theologian, has recently entered the blog world.  Olson describes himself as "theologian of the evangelical Baptist persuasion."  But he also is a proud Arminian.  So on my maiden voyage to his blog I read his post on "The Problem with Calvinism is . . ."  As difficult as this was to read here's part of what he wrote
"Second, I am not a Calvinist because (hold on!) IF I WERE A CALVINIST I would have trouble distinguishing between God and the devil. Some Calvinists have misinterpreted this saying. They think I’m accusing them of worshiping the devil. Nothing could be farther from the truth. All I am saying is, if I were a Calvinist, being of the bent of mind that I am (striving for logical consistency as much as possible), I would have trouble clearly distinguishing between God and the devil in my own mind.
To my Calvinist acquaintances who take umbrage at this, all I can say is–please just consider it my own intellectual failure if you wish. I am not aiming this saying at you. I am admitting my own failure (from your point of view, I’m sure). But it does hold me back from joining the ranks of the “young, restless, Reformed” (not all of who are young, by the way).
The point is–God’s character. IF God elects people to salvation unconditionally and IF God IS love (1 John) why doesn’t he save everybody? IF I could be a universalist, I could be a Calvinist. I don’t care about free will for its own sake or for any humanist reasons. Hell is the sticky issue. The Calvinist God could save everyone because his election to salvation is unconditional and his grace is irresistible. Apparently, he purposefully chooses to “pass over” some (which is in effect the same as foreordaining them to hell). Why? For his glory? Some Calvinists say hell is necessary for the full manifestation of God’s attribute of justice. I ask what that says about the cross-was it not a sufficient manifestation of God’s justice?
The devil wants everyone to go to hell. The God of Calvinism wants many to go to hell. Is that enough of a difference of character? Not to me. The God of Jesus Christ is absolutely, unconditionally good. The God of Calvinism, from my perspective, is not absolutely, uncondtionally good and, in fact, has a dark side that includes willing that people perish eternally (contrary to 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4)."
Ouch!  No matter how you paint this, as a Calvinist, it hurts to read it.  Everything I've read by Olson reflects a gentle and kind nature yet he is always honest and forthright in his arguments.  I think it over simplifies the matter to reduce it to who wants who, or how many, to go to hell but I'm sure this is just one argument among many.  Must the wills of Satan and God always differ?   Did Satan want Jesus to die?  Did God want Jesus to die?  Does their agreement, at whatever level, mean they are indistinguishable?  (Samson's desire to marry a Philistine was objected to by his parents but Scripture says that "his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines."  Judges 14:4  Also, Eli's sons would not listen to him because "the Lord desired to put them to death."  1 Sam. 2:25 NASB)  If I believe that God wills some to perish then I do so because I believe it is the teaching of Scripture.  It's then left for me to wrap my sentiments around the truth of that teaching.  Having said that, I recently read in Terrance Tiessen's book this quote which I think is applicable
"If we portray God's judgment in ways that run counter to everything we expect in proper human jurisprudence, we will have to provide good explanation for doing so.  God's ways are often beyond our comprehension, but God's justice is the standard of human justice, and I fail to see why we would attribute to him something we would never accept from a human judge."  (Who Can Be Saved? p. 142)
Suitable caution should be used here because our very notions of justice and jurisprudence are tainted with sin and our own human short-sightedness but I understand what Tiessen is driving at.  On the other hand, I'm not sure Olson's question alleviates the problem.  On an Arminian account God created a world in which he clearly knew some would reject him because of free will or whatever you please and that those who did reject him would end up in hell; but, he created anyway subsequently making it a reality that some will be eternally lost.  Doesn't the creative act imply God was, at least to some degree, willing for some to perish?  Olson says he has a forthcoming book from Zondervan on this very issue.  I look forward to reading it as I'm sure this will be fleshed out in more detail.  At any rate, Olson's blog is a welcome addition since the number of Arminian blogs compared to Calvinist ones is not great.  I've added him to my blog roll.  I will continue to read and be challenged to think harder about my own Calvinism.  For that I'm grateful. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Vacation Reading with Terrance Tiessen

This past week, while on vacation, I read Who Can Be Saved? By Terrance Tiessen. My week was much more involved with activities than usual so I wasn’t able to finish it. I am almost done with it but not quite. Let me give some general impressions and then I’ll talk about some specifics.

Who Can Be Saved? was published in 2004 and as of then Tiessen had read every one of any significance on the topic and some that surprised me. For example, one of my favorite systematic theologies is by J. Oliver Buswell Jr. but you rarely, if ever, see any one refer to it any more. Tiessen interacts as well with more recognizable figures such as D. A. Carson, Clark Pinnock, Gerald McDermott, Harold Netland, Winfried Corduan, Millard Erickson, Daniel Clendenin, Ronald Nash, John Piper, J. I. Packer, Darrell Bock, Amos Yong, J. N. D. Anderson, John Sanders, Neal Punt and many, many more. The range of literature covered by Tiessen is quite impressive. He approaches the topic admittedly as an evangelical and a monergist (he prefers monergist over Calvinist since some Calvinists hold to a libertarian notion of freedom). (17-20) He further states that he holds to critical realism along with the correspondence theory of truth and the globalization of Christianity. (20-21) I find myself suitably comfortable with all four.

Tiessen lays out five options in addressing the issues of the unevangelized and world religions:
Ecclesiocentrism, Agnosticism, Accesibilism, Religious Instrumentalism and Relativism. The typical categories found in other treatments are exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism. Tiessen observes that scholars have taken issue with these labels and found them each to be problematic in one form or another and so therefore he offers his own categories. In chapter two he offers a brief definition of each and their distinctive.

Ecclesiocentrism is “characterized particularly by the conviction that ever since Christ ascended and sent the Holy Spirit, only those who hear the gospel can be saved.” (32) Advocates of this position would be John Calvin, John Piper, Douglas Geivett and, formerly, Terrance Tiessen.

Agnosticism identifies those who “do not know for sure that God has means by which to save people who not hear about Christ. . . . At most, they find the Bible silent about the fate of the unevangelized. . . Evangelicals who take this standpoint in regard to the possible salvation of the unevangelized also tend to be more affirming of relative good in the context of other religions, while insisting that the religions are not themselves God’s instruments of salvation.” (33) John Stott is an advocate of this position.

Accessibilism “asserts that Jesus Christ is exclusively God’s means of salvation and that the covenantal relationships God established with Israel and the church, in working out his saving program, are unique and unparalleled.” They do “posit that God makes salvation accessible to people who do not receive the gospel. Although they grant that non-Christians can be saved, they do not regard the religions as God’s instrument in their salvation.” (33) Tiessen notes that some have defined accessibilism as inclusivism. (34) This is Tiessen’s position.

Religious instrumentalism says “God’s salvation is available through non-Christian religions. Jesus is still held to be, in some sense, unique, normative and definitive; but God is said to be revealing himself and providing salvation through other religious traditions as well.” (34) This view is strong among Roman Catholic theologians. Of particular note are Hans Küng and Karl Rahner with his “anonymous Christian” theory.

Relativism says “salvation is universally accessible through the various religions that are part of the divine program. . . All the major religions have true revelations in part, while no single revelation or religion can claim final and definitive truth.” (34) “One of the major problems with using the term pluralism to define the position that I am calling relativism is that pluralism is widely used to describe contexts in which diverse viewpoints are permitted. In that sense, societies that grant religious freedom to their members are pluralist. But most people in all four of the other categories are committed to this sort of plurality, or pluralism.” (35) Here we find John Hick, Paul Knitter and Raimundo Panikkar.

Tiessen recounts his own “conversion” to accessibilism from ecclesiocentrism. After doing a review of three different books on the subject but still convinced of his position he found himself “reexamining biblical texts and hearing them differently.” He continues: “I concluded that I had been reading Scripture through ecclesiocentrists lenses, which I had inherited and gotten used to. But when I stood back and examined the lenses themselves, I decided that they had been keeping me from seeing some things that now jumped out at me from the biblical pages.” (41)

In a latter post I will interact with some key thoughts that I found most challenging. I started this book as a convinced ecclesiocentrist but Tiessen has provided significant reasons to doubt it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Baker Publishing Group Acquires Academic Titles from Hendrickson Publishers

Here's some exciting news from Baker Publishing Group.  Baker has acquired about 300 titles of existing and forthcoming academic titles from Hendrickson.  Congratulations to both Baker and Hendrickson.  I've seen the list and let me just say that Baker has significantly enhanced it's academic line.  I've long admired much of what Hendrickson has produced I'm very excited about this new acquisition.  Here's the official press release

Grand Rapids, Mich. —Baker Publishing Group and Hendrickson Publishers have signed a letter of intent regarding approximately 300 existing and forthcoming academic titles published by Hendrickson. The titles, some from authors previously published by Baker, will be purchased by Baker Publishing Group and enfolded into Baker Academic.

Academic books have been a core part of Baker from the very beginning. Over the years, the company has increased its investment in this area, becoming a significant outlet for books that extend the academic conversation. "We have long admired the academic publishing line that Hendrickson Publishers has built," notes Dwight Baker, President, Baker Publishing Group. "I count it both a privilege and a responsibility to see these books transferred into our care. I am confident that our academic staff will be wise stewards, serving both authors and readers well, recognizing the investment of time, energy, and resources these books represent."

"I'm very proud of Hendrickson's academic list of books, which has provided a strong foundation of our business for thirty years," says CEO Ray Hendrickson. "Over the last few years, our business has expanded in new directions, and we have decided to focus our energies and resources on the areas in which we have developed particular expertise, primarily Bibles and Bible reference.

"It has been of the utmost importance to me that we find the perfect home for our academic authors and books, and I'm delighted and proud to pass the baton to Baker Academic, which has proven itself to be a publisher of great distinction in this very specialized field," Hendrickson continued.

The two family-owned companies have enjoyed a cordial relationship and constructive partnerships for decades, and they are committed to making the transition as smooth as possible for all concerned—authors, accounts, and readers. The terms of the purchase are not being disclosed. After a period of due diligence, the companies plan an October 1 target date for the transition of titles to be complete. More information on the specifics of orders and returns will be provided by both companies as soon as it becomes available.

Baker Academic serves the academy and the church by publishing works that further the pursuit of knowledge and understanding within the context of Christian faith. Our authors are scholars who are leaders in their fields, write irenically, and display a healthy respect for other perspectives and traditions. Our goal is to publish books that are notable for their inherent quality and deemed essential reading by students and scholars.

Baker Publishing Group publishes high-quality writings that represent historic Christianity and serve the diverse interests and concerns of evangelical readers. Founded in 1939, today Baker Publishing Group is composed of six divisions, each reflecting a unique segment of Christian publishing. These divisions are Bethany House Publishers, Revell, Baker Books, Baker Academic, Chosen Books, and Brazos Press. Baker Publishing Group is also the exclusive publisher of GOD'S WORD® Translation (GW). Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Publishing Group is one of the world's largest publishers of Christian books. For more information, please visit http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com/.

Hendrickson Publishers was started as a reference and academic press in 1980, based in Peabody, Massachusetts. Today the company is among the top Bible and Bible reference publishers in the country. Hendrickson's goal is to publish resources every Christian needs to better understand the Scriptures and to mature in their spiritual walk. For further information, please visit http://www.hendrickson.com/.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Coming Soon from Baker Books - A Visual History of the King James Bible

Next year is the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.  Just as we saw last year with John Calvin's 500th birthday we can expect a lot on the King James Bible.  Coming in February from Baker Books is A Visual History of the King James Bible by Donald Brake and Shelly Beach.  If this sounds familiar to some of you it's because Brake had a previous book entitled A Visual History of the English Bible (see my post on that here).  Brake did a marvelous job on that book and I expect nothing less on this next one.  Here's the catalog description:
"For 400 years the King James Version of the Holy Bible has been the most influential book to be published in the English language. Now Bible collector and expert Donald L. Brake brings to life the fascinating story of its creation and proliferation throughout the English-speaking world. With beautiful and informative photos, illustrations, charts, and sidebars, Brake invites readers to explore the KJV's mysterious beginnings, the men who translated it, the manuscripts upon which that translation was based, the important people and places that influenced its production, and even Shakespeare's involvement in it."
"In an age where a new translation of the Bible seems to come about every few years, discover what has made the King James Version endure for four centuries."
As you recall when I did my survey of most popular Bible translations that sold in our store the King James came in third (a distant third but third nonetheless).  If you're looking for a good book on the King James Bible this one will be must for your library. 

Shelly Beach is the award-winning author of five books. She was on the writing team for The NIV Stewardship Study Bible and was a contributor to Holy Bible: Mosaic. She is a cofounder of the Cedar Falls Christian Writer's Workshop in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and the Breathe Christian Writer's Workshop in Grand Haven, Michigan.

Donald L. Brake (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary) is Dean Emeritus, Multnomah Biblical Seminary, Portland, Oregon. An avid collector of rare Bibles and manuscripts for more than 30 years, he has one of the most complete private collections of rare English Bibles and Greek New Testaments in America. He is a former pastor and the author of A Visual History of the English Bible. Brake lives in Washington.

Watch for it this February.  A Visual History of the King James Bible will be a hardcover with 272 pages and over 80 illustrations and sell for $24.99. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

John Dickson on the New Atheists

In the following two videos John Dickson provides some important observations about the quality of the scholarship he's seen from some of the New Atheists.  His question becomes "If in areas where I can check there scholarship and it proves wrong or they are misrepresenting things then how can I really trust them in other areas?"  The first video focuses on minor problems while the second focuses on some of the bigger issues.  Both are worth watching but if you have to choose only one pick number 2 (it's only 8:24 minutes long). 


The New Atheists questionable history part 1 from CPX on Vimeo.


The New Atheist's questionable history part 2 from CPX on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Coming Soon from Brazos Press - The Vampire Defanged

Well, I haven’t seen any of the Twilight movies but I did watch some episodes of Dark Shadows when I was a kid. (I didn’t realize it was just a soap opera with some vampires and werewolves thrown in for good measure.) Better than that was the portrayal of Dracula by Bela Lugosi. We’ve come a long way from then which brings us to a new book coming from Brazos Press called The Vampire Defanged: How the Embodiment of Evil Became a Romantic Hero by Susannah Clements. Vampires are big money today but they aren’t what they used to be. Today they can be downright chivalrous, winning the hearts of young girls without a single bite. Here’s the catalog description of The Vampire Defanged:
"Vampires first entered the pop culture arena with Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, Dracula. Today, vampires are everywhere. From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the Twilight Saga to HBO's True Blood series, pop culture can't get enough of the vampire phenomenon."
"Bringing her literary expertise to this timely subject, Susannah Clements reveals the roots of the vampire myth, showing how it was originally immersed in Christian values and symbolism. Over time, however, vampires have been "defanged" as their spiritual significance has waned, turning what was once the embodiment of evil into a teen idol and the ultimate romantic hero. Clements offers a close reading of selected vampire texts, explaining how this transformation occurred and helping readers discern between the variety of vampire stories presented in movies, TV shows, and novels. Her probing engagement of the vampire metaphor enables readers to make Christian sense of this popular obsession."
And here’s the table of contents:
1. Why Vampires Matter
2. Bram Stoker's Dracula: Sin and the Power of the Cross
3. Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles: Eternal Guilt and Transcendent Love
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Sin and Sacrifice, Postmodern Style
5. Sookie Stackhouse: Sex and the Socialized Vampire
6. Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga: The Vampire as Teenage Heartthrob
7. Vampire Sinners
8. Vampire Saviors
Conclusion
Timeline of Referenced Vampire Texts

This will be a fascinating read for those with an interest in the development of vampires in English Literature and the American cinema and pop culture.

Susannah Clements (PhD, University of South Carolina) is associate professor and chair of the department of language and literature at Regent University in Virginia. She is a contributor to the Dictionary of Literary Biography and has presented papers and taught courses on subjects including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jane Eyre, and J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Get your cloves of garlic ready and watch for The Vampire Defanged this coming March. It will be a paperback and sell for $14.99.


Monday, August 2, 2010

I'm on Vacation but Still Reading

This week my family and I are on vacation.  Since I don't like to cart around a lot of books I usually bring only two or three for my primary reading.  The one I'm most excited about is Who Can Be Saved? Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions by Terrance l. Tiessen.  I've seen this book for a long time and have been tempted to pick it up before but never have.  Why now?  Glad you asked.  I was intrigued by John Piper's comment in his book, Jesus: The Only Way to God - Must You Hear the Gospel to be SavedHe says, "Perhaps the best defense of the inclusivist position by someone within the Reformed camp would be Terrance L. Tiessen."  (62)  This got my attention.  I was then disappointed in that Piper virtually ignores Tiessen's work in his book choosing rather to deal with such notables as Clark Pinnock.  Now since Piper has a strong reformed following it seemed only natural that when he made a statement like that about Tiessen that he would then interact at least somewhat with Tiessen.  But he doesn't.  I confess I've already taken a sneak peak at Tiessen and I like much of what I see.  I'll let you know what I think after I get back.

Who Can Be Saved? is from IVP and is a paperback with 511 pages and sells for $28.00. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Check Out Our Upcoming Events!

I've updated our "Upcoming Events" column to the left.  Check it out to see what's coming including our annual Princess Party this Saturday.  The girls (ages 3 - 10) have a great time. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Just a Quick Question for Deepak Chopra

I found this on Francis Beckwith's blog.  His label for it is "bad philosophy."  So very appropriate and terribly funny. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Have You Heard of the "Flying Spaghetti Monster"?

If you have an interest in Intelligent Design you've probably heard of the parody against it called the "Flying Spaghetti Monster."  The idea was created by Bobby Henderson and used in a letter to State Board of Education of Kansas to "protest the use of textbook stickers promoting Intelligent Design."  William Lane Craig explains it in a little more detail in this video and on his website Reasonable Faith.  I've also included the picture submitted by Henderson to the Board of Education of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  What some intended as nothing more than a joke others have taken to be a serious objection to Intelligent Design. 


Monday, July 26, 2010

Small Group Materials - Bringing the Bible to Life

As we prepare for our annual Small Group Workshop I’m going through small group materials to figure out what we will feature this year. A series that is already out but has had some new studies added this past year is the Bringing the Bible to Life from Zondervan. This series is based on the popular commentary series known as the Zondervan NIV Application Commentary (NIVAC). When I read (re-read) the series preface by Karen Jobes I found myself saying “YES, I’ve been in studies like this.” Here’s what she writes:
“Have you ever been in a small-group Bible study where the leader read a passage from the Bible and then invited the members of the group to share what the passage meant to them? God wants to speak to each person individually through the Bible, but such an approach to a group study can often be a frustrating and shallow experience for both leader and participants. And while the same passage can speak in various ways into people’s lives, the meat of the Word is found in what the biblical writer intended to say about God and our relationship to him. The Bringing the Bible to Life series is for those who are ready to move from a surface reading of the Bible into a deeper understanding of God’s Word.”
“But the Bible, though perhaps familiar, was written in ancient languages and in times quite different from our own, so most readers need a bit more help getting to a deeper understanding of its message. A study that begins and ends with what a passage ‘means to me’ leaves the meaning of the passage unanchored and adrift in the thoughts—and perhaps the misunderstanding—of the reader. But who has time to delve into the history, language, cultures, and theology of the Bible? That’s the work of biblical scholars who spend their lives researching, teaching, and writing about the ancient Scriptures. The need is to get the fruit of all that research into the hands of those in small-group Bible studies.”
The Bringing the Bible to Life series is only one of a number of new small group studies that aims at the more mature believer. Two others that come to mind are Deeper Connections from Zondervan and Deepening Life Together from Baker Publishing Group. If your group is looking for something to take you deeper into the study of the Scriptures you may want to look at these series and see if one of them is right for you.

Here's a picture of one from each of these series:





Saturday, July 24, 2010

The New Testament Canon

I’m starting part two of The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Köstenberger and Kruger. The first part of the book responds to charges by Walter Bauer and more recently Bart Ehrman that early Christianity was characterized by multiple forms of Christianities none of which could claim to be true or orthodox. What we know of today as orthodox Christianity simply won the day by overpowering the other viewpoints via strategic power plays and the suppression of their writings and teachings. It is entirely possible that if one of the other viewpoints won then Christianity would look very different today. Instead of reading the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John we would be reading the Gospels of Thomas, Peter, Philip and Nicodemus. This diversity of thought is even traced back to the New Testament writings themselves by Ehrman and others. The way in which the debate is framed can sometimes skew it from the beginning. For example,
“As in many places, Ehrman places the conventional view in a virtual no-win situation. If the New Testament is held to be essentially unified, this, according to Ehrman, proves that it was ‘written by winners’ who chose to suppress and exclude all countervailing viewpoints. If the New Testament were to exhibit a considerable degree of diversity, and an unsettled state of affairs as to which theological position represents the standard of orthodoxy, this would be taken as evidence that the Bauer-Ehrman thesis is correct and diversity prevailed in earliest Christianity. Either way, Ehrman is right, and the conventional understanding of orthodoxy wrong. As a debating tactic, this is clever indeed.” (71)
The second part of the book is on the issue of the New Testament canon. How were the first books of the New Testament chosen and why? Who did the choosing and what were their criteria? My friend, Paul Adams, recently did a series of posts on the issue which is well worth reading. He blends the issues of canonicity and reliability together and offers some suggested reading at the end of the third post. I would add to his list Craig D. Allert’s book A High View of Scripture?: The Authority of the Bible and the Formation of the New Testament Canon. I don’t agree with everything Allert advocates but I think he ably shows the issue is much more complicated than is commonly perceived. One important factor I appreciated was his nuance of the role that Marcion played in canon formation. He says, “While scholars continue to debate the influence of Marcion on the formation of the New Testament canon, the views of Harnack, Campenhausen, and Hoffman have, to varying degrees, been revised. The revision is to see Marcion as having a more modest influence on the developing New Testament canon and not as having a decisive influence.” (91 Emphasis his.) Allert also attempts to show that for the early church a “completed canon” was not nearly as important as the “Rule of Faith” in combating heresy. Consider this,
“Irenaeus confirms that the church of the second century really had no need of a written canon because it already had a canon of truth. It was this Rule of Faith against which everything was measured in the second century—even the writings of the developing New Testament. We must be careful here, however, of pushing this too far. In view of the importance of the Rule of Faith, we must not take this to mean the Christian writings were relatively unimportant in the early church. Scripture and the Rule of Faith were seen to share a common origin with the original preaching and teaching of the apostles and therefore have material agreement with it.” (125)
I look forward to reading the second half of The Heresy of Orthodoxy and will keep you updated as I get through it.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first half and expect the second half to be just as good.