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. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Themelios Article Surveys the Latest Commentaries on Colossians

Want to get up to speed on the latest on the book of Colossians? In the April 2010 issue of Themelios is an article on “New Commentaries on Colossians: Survey of Approaches, Analysis of Trends, and the State of Research” by Nijay Gupta.

Gupta covers six new commentaries on Colossians and surveys their opinion on eight interpretive cruxes. The six commentaries are:

1) Marianne Meye Thompson in the Two Horizons New Testament Commentary series.
2) R. McL. Wilson in the International Critical Commentary
3) Charles H. Talbert in the Paideia series.
4) Ben Witherington III's socio-rhetorical commentary
5) Douglas J. Moo in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series
6) Jerry Sumney in the New Testament Library series

The eight interpretive cruxes are:

1) Authorship
2) The Colossian Heresy or Philosophy
3) Paul and the sufferings of Christ (1:24)
4) Stoicheia tou Kosmou (2:8, 20)
5) The Fullness [Plērōma] of God (1:19; 2:9)
6) Shadow and Body/Substance (2:17)
7) Worship of Angels (2:18)
8) The Household Code (3:18–4:1)

Just to give one example here’s the paragraph on Stoicheia tou Kosmou. But first, to give you an idea of the problem here’s how various versions have translated it:

NKJV – “principles of the world”
ESV, NET – “elemental spirits of the world”
RSV - "elemental spirits of the universe"
NIV – “basic principles of the world”
TNIV – “elemental spiritual forces of the world”
HCSB - "elemental forces of the world"
NLT 1st ed. – “evil powers of the world”
NLT 2nd ed. – “spiritual powers of the world”
KJV, ASV, Young’s Literal – “rudiments of the world”
NASB – “elementary principles of the world”
GW –“the world’s way of doing things”
NCV – “ruling spirits of this world”
CEB (Common English Bible) - "the way the world thinks and acts"
“More controversial is the meaning of the phrase stoicheia tou kosmou, which can be understood in three ways. It could refer to the spiritual beings that dominate the earth (the archic view), the basic principles of the world (the logical view), or the component parts of the world (the elemental view). In twentieth-century scholarship, the archic view was dominant. However, among our six modern scholars, there is no consensus. Thompson (53) and Witherington (155) draw attention to the logical view as the “teachings” and “rules” of the philosophy seem to be a major issue. Talbert (211–12) leans towards the archic view, while Moo (187–92) argues that a combination of the elemental and archic is appropriate. Sumney and Wilson (195–96) appear to be undecided. Sumney focuses on the rhetorical import of the phrase, namely, to point out that ‘the teaching has a worldly source instead of a divine one’ (131).”
“Though disagreement continues over the stoicheia, it is helpful to observe how the conclusions are reached. Some scholars focus on usage of the term in comparative literature (e.g., Moo, Wilson, Talbert), while others take interest in the purpose of the phrase in Colossians (Thompson, Sumney, Witherington). Both approaches, of course, are important for the elucidation of the phrase. Indeed, it must be recognized that there is a dialectic that exists between a word’s (or phrase’s) meaning in common usage and the meaning as it appears in context. At the end of the day, even though one must get a sense for how a group tends to use a particular word or phrase, the key determinant in meaning is the actual historical and literary context of the work at hand. It would seem that those commentaries that make the Pauline rhetorical context primary (without ignoring antecedent and contemporaneous usage) will end up finding a consensus sooner.”
The article is concise and well written. Nijay Gupta currently serves as a visiting instructor at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio. Beginning in the fall, he will teach Biblical Studies at Seattle Pacific University.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Robert Gundry's Commentary on the New Testament - Some Observations - 2

This is my second post on Robert Gundry’s Commentary on the New Testament. In my first post I said there was nothing on authorship, dating or audience. I was a bit premature on that. There is a short paragraph which heads up each book though the content varies from book to book. For example, at the beginning of Luke Gundry tells us that “early church tradition attributes the writing of this Gospel to Luke, a physician who accompanied the Apostle Paul on at least some of his travels.” (221) There is nothing on the date or audience. Again, I don’t see this as a problem since this information is readily available from many other sources.

Heb. 10:24-25 – I’ve often seen this verse used simply to encourage church attendance and was left with the impression that the occasion for this admonition was people were slackers about getting up on Sunday morning. I think Gundry has an important insight I’ve not seen before. He comments, “In view of the upcoming mention of persecution (10:32-34), ‘the habit’ of some to abandon the assembling of themselves with other Christians probably has the purpose of avoiding persecution. But to forestall a consequent apostasy, they should encourage one another in their assemblies.” (902)

2 Peter 2:9-10 – Throughout the commentary Gundry provides his own translation. In some cases he offers a new translation which opens up new interpretive possibilities. 2 Peter 2:9 Gundry translates as “the Lord knows to be rescuing godly people out of temptation and to be keeping unrighteous people for the Day of Judgment.” He comments, “Despite other translations to the contrary, Peter doesn’t write that the Lord knows ‘how’ to rescue godly people. There’s no word in the Greek text which has that meaning. Peter isn’t concerned with the Lord’s method in rescuing godly people—rather, with the fact that he rescues them, which fact encourages them not to forsake the path of righteousness.” (961)

Matthew 13:35 – At least one of his translations caught me off guard as in this passage which Gundry translates “so that what was spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled, saying, ‘I’ll open my mouth with parables, I’ll belch [an attention-getting figure of speech for speaking] things hidden since the founding of the world.” (Emphasis mine. I’ve not found another translation that is quite so straight forward!)

Jude 21-22 – There are some wonderful pastoral moments as when Gundry comments on this passage with “So ‘kept [by God] for Jesus Christ’ (verse 1) doesn’t absolve Christians from their own responsibility to keep themselves in the love of god ‘while waiting expectantly’ for mercy instead of condemnation at the second coming and Last Judgment. The expectation enables the waiting; the waiting requires the keeping; the keeping ensures the mercy; and the mercy results in eternal life. In his exhortation Jude notably involves the Holy Spirit, God, and Jesus Christ—all three persons of what has come to be called the Trinity.” (995)

Hebrews 6:1 – This week I had a customer ask about a new Bible translation called the International Standard Version. On the website I noticed that David Alan Black (one of the members of the translation committee) commented on this passage and he said when you look at the verb in the passage “there is nothing here of going on or pressing on or self effort or struggle to make progress in the Christian life. The verb is better translated be carried along and that to me makes a big difference.” That prompted me to see what Gundry did with this verse since I couldn’t find another translation to support Black’s comment. Here’s how Gundry translates it followed by his comment: “let us allow ourselves to be carried on to maturity. . . Since the author has compared his audience to infants (5:11-14) and since infants need to be carried, he exhorts, ‘let us allow ourselves to be carried on to maturity.” (885)

Let me now summarize some of my thoughts on the commentary as a whole. First, please don’t get the impression that Gundry’s comments are limited to a paragraph or two on each passage. For a one-volume commentary there is a good deal of discussion of much of the New Testament and some of it is quite lengthy. On the other hand you will find many places where you could wish for more. That comes with the territory. I like much of what I’ve seen and will feel very comfortable in recommending this to anyone looking for a good one-volume commentary. Small group leaders and laity will gain much from having this in their library. Pastors should not be too quick to give it a pass because there are some gems both from a scholar’s perspective and a pastoral perspective. I think the last two examples above are good illustrations of both. I wish it good sales.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Did God's Clothing of Adam and Eve Involve a Sacrifice?

I was taught for years that when God “made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21) it implied the sacrificial killing of an animal. This is still a fairly popular belief in many Christian circles. D. A. Carson is his recent release, The God Who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story, says this about the passage:
“At this stage in the Bible’s storyline there is no system of sacrifice; that comes later—a priestly system with prescribed sacrifices and ritual. But God knows that they need to be covered. They have so much shame to hide. . . This is the first sacrifice in the long trajectory of bloody sacrifices that reaches all the way down to the coming of Jesus. . . Here in Genesis 3 the death of an animal to cover the man and the woman is a picture of what is to come, the first step of an entire institution of sacrifices that points us finally to the supreme sacrifice and what Jesus did to take away our sin and cover up our shame.” (39)
But while I was a student at the Moody Bible Institute a new professor arrived and I took a class from him on Genesis. His name was John Walton (who now teaches at Wheaton). The Old Testament began to look significantly different in a number of places and this was one of them. Here’s how Walton understands the passage in his commentary on Genesis:
“It is a serious error to read sacrifice between the lines of verse 21. The institution of sacrifice is far too significant an occurrence to leave it entirely to inference. Again we stress that it is our objective as interpreters to understand what the author wished to communicate, not to piece together answers we would like to know from reading between the lines. The author is clearly not communicating anything about sacrifice here, for he does not address that issue. What is his point then?”
“In some contexts, clothing someone is an act of investiture. Kings and priests were clothed in installation ceremonies. Joseph was clothed by his father with a special coat and was clothed by Pharaoh on his appointment to high office. But all of these constitute elevations of status, whereas Adam and Eve are ready to be demoted. In the Tale of Adapa, after Adapa loses the opportunity to eat from the bread and water of life, he is given clothing by the god Anu before being sent from his presence.”
“For lack of other alternatives, this provision should probably be seen as an act of grace by God, preparing them for the more difficult environment he is sending them into and providing a remedy for their newly developed shame. Insofar as animal death is likely already in the system (see comments on pp. 183-84), there is nothing unusual about using an animal skin for a garment.” (229-30).
And this year we were treated to a “theological” commentary by R. R. Reno who gives the garments of skin yet another look. He says,
“God seems to express care by providing the fallen man and woman with clothing to replace the woven garments of fig leaves. These clothes prepare the man and woman to live under the burden of their transgression. But what, exactly, are these garments?”
“The leather clothes suggest a thickening or toughening of the human condition. Human life takes on greater density and weight. The Catholic tradition calls this weight concupiscence, the condition of disorder within the human soul caused when the lower appetites, what Paul calls ‘passions of our flesh’ (Eph. 2:3), push us in directions contrary to our rational desires. For example, I want to study for a test or practice a musical instrument, but hunger distracts or sleepiness overwhelms or an attractive woman has me off and running. This added weight or sluggishness blunts and reduces the power of the human will by dissipating it into the desires of the moment. What we plan for the future is corrupted by what we want in the moment.” (95)
Reno explains that the Council of Trent teaches “that concupiscence is not itself sin, but rather ‘comes from sin and induces to sin’ (session 5.5)”. He asks then, “in what sense could this sluggishness and capacity for distraction be an act of divine care?” He answers:
“Human beings are poised halfway between animals and angels. We are embodied rational animals, capable of long-term projects and sustained loyalties. As a result, the original transgression has momentum. As Rowan Williams observes, ‘The corruption of the human will is more far-reaching disaster than the corruption of the animal will.’ We can follow through with our decision to be loyal to finite reality. For this reason, ‘a wicked human is an immeasurably greater problem than a wicked hamster.’ In order to restrain the effects of sin, God makes the garments of skin. Concupiscence places a governor on the intensity of the human will. It makes us more like hamsters, seeking the pleasure of the moment, and less like the devil, who has no body to limit the intensity of his perversely formed will. Clothed with the garments of skin, we remain incapable of fully focusing our minds in order to completely follow through with our ill-fated plans.” (95-96)
The first two interpretations recognize an actual animal skin. Reno seems to interpret the garments as a symbol of a change in the human condition. No animal needed for that. Thirty-four years ago I would have dismissed Walton and laughed at Reno. Twenty-eight years ago I accepted Walton and would have dismissed Reno. Today I’m sticking with Walton but have respect for Reno’s interpretation. It’s a simple passage but my journey with its interpretation illustrates the possible changes in one person’s study of the Bible and my growth with respect to the various interpretations that are possible. (By “simple” I don’t mean “problem free.” My post should show that. But rather that its interpretation is minor compared to some other passages. In other words, I don’t lose any sleep on this one.) My youthful arrogance and over confidence has lessened (I hope) and my respect for the work of scholars from a broader perspective than just my evangelical up bringing has widened.  Do you have stories like this of your own? 

Here are the three titles I referenced:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Coming Soon from Zondervan - Matthew in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

In November 2008 we saw the inaugural release of a new commentary series from Zondervan called the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament or ZECNT. That initial volume was by Craig Blomberg and Mariam Kamell on the book of James. It was very well done but my question was how would this new format look on a book of larger proportions than James? Well, the wait is almost over. Coming this October/November we will see Grant Osborne on the Gospel of Matthew. I enjoyed Blomberg and Kamell on James and look forward to seeing this new volume. I have the highest hopes for it. I had the pleasure of having Grant Osborne as an instructor while I was at Trinity although it was for only one course (Colossians and Ephesians).

AND you should know two more volumes in this series will be right on the heels of Matthew due out in the December/January time frame. Galatians is authored by Thomas Schreiner and Ephesians by Clinton Arnold (who is also the general editor for the series).

Matthew will be a hardcover with 1152 pages (although the catalog description I have from my rep says 1200 pages) and will sell for $49.99.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hurtado's New Blog - A Gold Mine

One of the features of Larry Hurtado’s blog is a collection of his essays including a couple that are difficult to find. I’ve read two so far and would highly recommend them to you if either of the subjects interests you.

The first one is on the ending of Mark. Hurtado believes that Mark 16:1-8 provides an appropriate ending to the book. One of the foundations to his premise is the three passages which include named women in the Gospel (15:40-41; 51:47; 16:4-6). These women become a note of continuity as they are eyewitnesses to three significant events: the crucifixion through the moment of death, the burial and the vacant tomb. He says, “the repeated naming of the women in three consecutive Markan scenes in 15:40-16:8 likely functions to link more emphatically these particular scenes.” (3) The apex of the Gospel for Hurtado is not seen as the centurion’s statement in 15:39 (“Truly this man was the Son of God!”) but rather the proclamation of the young man sitting in the tomb who says in 16:6 “He has risen”. “The centurion is portrayed as uttering something that has one sense for him (basically, Jesus’ death as heroic), but readers are able to see a further connotation . . . But in 16:6 there is no ambiguity or irony, and the figure who speaks is clearly a ‘reliable voice’ in literary terms, much like the divine voice from heaven in 1:11 and 9:7.” (8) Hurtado takes issue with the portrayal by modern commentators that the women were disobedient or failures. The phrase in 16:8, “they said nothing to anyone”, “quite readily can be taken as indicating, not a complete failure to communicate, but that the women spoke to no one else beyond those to whom they were directed.” (12) So why is there no “resurrection-appearance scene” in Mark? It’s neither because of ignorance nor from discomfort with them. This leads Hurtado to suggest it was deliberate. I quote him at length:
"As we have it, the final section of Mark’s story of Jesus culminates in the triumphant annunciation of Jesus’ divine vindication and his renewed status leader of his followers. But more specifically, the distinctive Markan stress on the reality of Jesus’ death, burial of his ‘corpse,’ the empty tomb, and the ability of certain known women to vouch for all this combine to underscore the real, bodily continuity of the risen Jesus with the crucified and buried Jesus. The primary concern, however, was probably not to assert one theory about the nature of the resurrection body over another for its own sake. Instead, the author aimed to emphasize the kerygma must include both Jesus’ cross and resurrection. The Markan narrative stresses that the crucifixion of Jesus is not simply overcome in his resurrection, as an ordeal that could now be regarded as a temporary setback like the trials of a Greek here. Instead, Mark insists that the risen Jesus remains the same Jesus who was crucified (16:6), and that the events of death, burial and resurrection together are essential in mutually interpreting one another.” (16) Hurtado goes on to say that “for such narrative purposes, a resurrection-appearance is not so obviously necessary.” (17) He suggests that if we understand the Markan story of Jesus as presenting “Jesus as the model and ‘blueprint’ for the intended readers” then such an appearance would be “unnecessary for addressing his emphasis on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as a model for believers. Indeed, the author may have thought that an appearance-narrative would have detracted from the sharp focus that he intended to place on Jesus as the sole valid model, as well as the basis, for Christian existence.” (17-18 emphasis his)
Whether you agree or disagree with Hurtado’s conclusions it is one of the finest arguments for viewing the ending of Mark as we have it in 16:1-8 as a “fully satisfactory climatic episode that was designed to thrill and empower intended readers to follow Jesus in mission, through opposition and even their own personal violent death, confident in an eschatological vindication by resurrection for which Jesus’ resurrection was the inspiring model.” (18)

The other essay is called “Jesus as Lordly Example in Philippians 2:5-11” which was included in a book dedicated to honor Francis Wright Beare called From Jesus to Paul. I won’t go into as much detail on this one (though it is shorter than the above article). Those familiar with this passage will know that there are, among a myriad of other issues, two primary ways of viewing the passage based on the translation of 2:5. The traditional translations (NIV, TNIV, HCSB, KJV, NLT, GW) read something like “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (NIV) or in the NKJV “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” This clearly makes Jesus our example to follow. This has become known as the “ethical interpretation.” The other interpretation says Jesus is not being promoted as our example. This is reflected in the ESV (and its parent the RSV) as “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” “This is known as the kerygmatic interpretation and is best associated with Ernest Käsemann and R. P. Martin. Hurtado interacts mostly with Käsemann and argues against him that the ethical interpretation is the better position. I believe Hurtado makes a strong case for the ethical interpretation but I think the translation by the ESV may, in fact, be the better translation. Indeed Hurtado recognizes that the translation of 2:5 is a small part of the interpretation of the passage when he says "However we translate the somewhat elliptical ho kai en Christō Iesou, the following verses determine more fully the interpretation to be given to the passage as a whole."  (121)  (See also Moises Silva’s Philippians in the BECNT series. As Silva points out the less traditional translation does not necessarily commit you to adopt the Kerygmatic interpretation. He comments that “much of the current discussion is plagued by false dichotomies.” Silva offers the best argument for the translation reflecting the Kerygmatic interpretation but does not believe we have to abandon the ethical interpreation as a result and says the passage is "best understood thus: 'Be so disposed toward one another as is proper for those who are united in Christ Jesus."  (97)  See also Craig Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos, p. 332 n.198.  For one of the best arguments for the traditional translation along with a critique of the Kergmatic interpretation see Peter T. O'Brien's The Epistle to the Philippians in the New International Greek Testament Commentary, pp. 253-262)

Hurtado’s contributions to the blog world are sincerely appreciated. His scholarship is always impressive and his writing style is extremely accessible. There’s gold in “them thar blogs.” If you’ve not yet made a visit don’t waste another minute.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Robert Gundry's Commentary on the New Testament - Some Observations

Before I start I want to answer a question that came up on yesterday’s post. Andrew asked if Gundry’s commentary was more for laity or scholars. He suspected the former but saw I only put up endorsements from scholars. Well Andrew, you’re right, it is more for laity. The only endorsement I didn’t put up was from John Ortberg who said the following:
“This is a great resource in a great format for a great purpose from a great scholar. Bob Gundry has been a treasure for people who love the Bible for many years, and this is one of his richest gifts to us yet.”
I’ve spent the past couple of nights scanning parts of Gundry’s Commentary on the New Testament and I want to highlight just a few matters I found interesting. As a matter of fact I’m finding so much I'm going to break this up into two posts. One now and one in a couple of days.

I’ll start with what’s not in the commentary. There is no discussion of authorship, date or audience of the books. This isn’t really all that bad since most one-volume commentaries only list them in short order. Secondly, information like this is now readily available in any good study Bible or Bible handbook. But more importantly to me was his refusal to comment on noncanonical verses. For example, for the doxology in Matt. 6:13 (“For thine is the kingdom . . .”) Gundry says this is “a later liturgical addition, that’s unoriginal to the New Testament.” Gundry believes the longer ending of Mark is not authentic but that there was an authentic ending which is now lost. He does not comment on the longer ending. Finally, on the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53 – 8:12 Gundry provides some of the reasoning behind not commenting on these noncanonical passages. He says,
“The bottom line: John didn’t write this story in his Gospel. It may be historically true, but it’s not part of Scripture if you believe that Scripture consists only of what its Spirit-inspired authors originally wrote. After all, Jesus did and said many other things in history that aren’t recorded in Scripture (compare John 20:30-31; 21:25). And if we believe in addition that the later copyists who inserted this story at various points were inspired by the Holy Spirit, we should be consistent enough to think the hundreds and hundreds of other copyists’ insertions and revisions were equally inspired. But that’s a hard pill to swallow. So we’ll skip the story as noncanonical and go directly to 8:12-59, which in John’s original text followed directly on 7:1-52.”
I’ve seen many commentaries recognize a passage as noncanonical and then proceed to comment on it as if it were Scripture. This sends a mixed message. Not part of the original text but I’ll comment on it as if it were Scripture. I found Gundry’s comments, or lack thereof, refreshing. Accordingly, the textual variant in 1 John 5:8 doesn’t even warrant a mention. Bravo! (Gundry briefly notes that some believe 1 Cor. 14:35-35 as a copyist’s insert but he disagrees. It is precisely at times like these where advocates of a contrary view would like to see more argument on Gundry’s part. This is the problem with any one-volume commentary—due to space limitations there is only so much you can say.) (679)

In the Introduction Gundry says he doesn’t “try to square New Testament affirmations of divine sovereignty, as in the doctrine of election to salvation (though I prefer to call it selection), with indications of human responsibility, as in the commands to repent of sins and believe the gospel.” Nor does he try to do the same with eternal security. (x) He does, however, have a clear preference for complentarianism over egalitarianism. (See Eph. 5, 1Tim. 2 and 1 Cor. 11) And he does believe in baptism by immersion. (cf. Rom. 6:3-4)

Here are a few other passages of note:

John 21:15-17 - (on the alleged distinction between agape and phileo): “In this passage John uses different Greek verbs for loving, for knowing, and for tending (or shepherding), and different nouns for sheep. Because he commonly uses synonyms without distinguishing their meanings in any way, however the foregoing translation has stuck to one English equivalent in each case. (So far as John is concerned, then, forget the popular treatment of agapē-love as superior to philē-love.) (461)

1 Cor. 15:8 is translated “And last of all he appeared also to me just as if to a miscarriage.” Gundry comments, “Since a couple or so have passed since Paul saw the resurrected Christ, ‘last of all’ implies that no more appearances of Christ to prove his resurrection are to be expected. Otherwise Paul would have said to aspire after apostleship . . . ‘Just as to a miscarriage’ doesn’t connect with Christ’s appearing to Paul ‘last of all’; for a miscarriage occurs early, not late.” His continued comments on this are excellent.

Matt. 5:3 - “The traditional translation, “Blessed,” is sometimes updated to “Happy.” But “Happy” wouldn’t fit those who in 5:4 “mourn”; and Jesus is stating a matter of fact, not a matter of what should be, as though the poor in spirit should be happy whether or not they are.” (15) He also notes, “Here and following, italics indicate points of emphasis and implications: ‘theirs rather than others”,’ “they rather than others,” and so on.” (15) Those who follow the Koinonia blog may remember that Bill Mounce commented on this latter point in one of his Monday With Mounce posts.

Matt. 25:37-40 - to the extent that acted [charitably] toward one of these littlest brothers of mine, you acted [charitably] toward me.  "The 'little ones' are believers in Jesus (18:6) . . . So he isn't talking about general humanitarianism (for that, go to passages such as Luke 10:30-37).  He's talking about disciples' risking persecution of themselves by helping fellow disciples already under persecution.  Such charity demonstrates true discipleship."  (114)

Stay tuned for more!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In Store Now - Commentary on the New Testament by Robert Gundry

This week we received Robert Gundry's one-volume commentary on the New Testament appropriately called Commentary on the New Testament.  I've started scanning it and I like what I see.  Let me give you the catalog description with a few endorsements.  In tomorrow's post I'll highlight some the things I've found that I like.  Here's the catalog description:
"Shouldn’t a Bible commentary clarify what God’s Word actually says? Going beyond questions of authorship, date, sources, and historicity, respected linguist and teacher Gundry offers a one-volume exposition of the New Testament that focuses on what is most useful for preaching, teaching, and individual study—what the biblical text really means. Providing interpretive observations in a “breezy” style that’s easy to read and adaptable for oral use in pulpit or classroom presentations, Gundry directs his book to an evangelical audience. His crisp translation of the New Testament inserts various phrasings of passages in brackets, allowing for smooth transition from original text to alternative and contemporary readings."
Here's a few of the early endorsements:

"Like having a wonderful tour guide to a foreign country, Gundry's study of the New Testament introduces and guides one through the many joys and causes for reflection that are a part of a trip through the New Testament. The guidance provided is judicious in its choices of what to comment on and skilled in its presentation of the key ideas. It will surely serve well those who use it."
Darrell Bock, Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary
"There is no better single-volume commentary on the New Testament than the one Bob Gundry has written. It offers succinct, fast-paced commentary, yet without neglecting the important points of interpretation. Busy pastors, students, laity, and even veteran scholars will find much in this commentary to appreciate. It belongs in every library and study."
Craig A. Evans, Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College, Nova Scotia, Canada
"This is not just another ho-hum commentary, the product of someone reading and repackaging previous commentaries. This is rather the fruit of a lifetime of close, intense attention to the text of the Greek New Testament; the upshot is that one happily finds on every page of this exegetical treasure fresh readings and independent judgments."
Dale C. Allison, Jr., Errett M. Grable Professor of New Testament Exegesis and Early Christianity, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
"Gundry’s magnum opus culminates the life’s work of one of our generation’s preeminent New Testament scholars. The weight of this commentary is matched by the substance of Gundry’s interpretation within its pages, reflecting his lifetime of scholarship. This one-volume commentary on the New Testament is a rare accomplishment that must find a place on the bookshelf of every serious preacher, teacher, and student of Scripture."
Karen H. Jobes, Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor of New Testament Greek and Exegesis, Wheaton College and Graduate School
Robert H. Gundry is a scholar-in-residence and professor emeritus of New Testament and Greek at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He is the author of the best-selling classroom text A Survey of the New Testament, now in its fourth edition. Among his other works are Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross; Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution; Soma in Biblical Theology; and Jesus the Word, According to John the Sectarian.

Commentary on the New Testament comes from Hendrickson Publishers and is a hardcover with 1,088 pages and sells for $49.95.  You can find a sample chapter here and the introduction here

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Have You Seen a "Sermon Jam"?

I was cruising through YouTube and ran across a series called "Sermon Jam".  They are excerpts from sermons with added music.  These two by D. A. Carson I found especially good.  This is vintage Carson. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Miroslav Volf Visits Eerdmans Bookstore in Grand Rapids

I just received notice that Miroslav Volf will be at Eerdmans Bookstore this Thursday, July 15th, from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.  He will be interacting on his forthcoming book Captive to the Word of God: Engaging the Scriptures for Contemporary Reflection.  Here's the catalog description of the book:

"In this book, Miroslav Volf, a systematic theologian, interprets texts of the Christian scriptures and invites others to also delve into, as he puts it, the site of God’s self-revelation for the sake of humanity’s integral salvation."
“I read the Bible as a sacred text and a witness to Jesus Christ; a site of God’s self-revelation; a text from the past through which God addresses all humanity and each human being today; a text that has an overarching unity yet is internally teaming with rich diversity; a texts that encodes meanings and refracts them in multiple ways; a text we should approach with trust and critical judgment as well as engage with receptivity and imagination; a text that defines Christian identity yet speaks to people beyond the boundaries of Christian communities.”— from the introduction
Miroslav Volf is Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School, New Haven, Connecticut. He is also the author of Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation.

Here's Eerdman's address and phone number:

Eerdmans Bookstore
2140 Oak Industrial Dr NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49505

Can We Compare the Oral Tradition of the Gospels to a Children's Game?

How many times in the course of a conversation about the the Gospels have you heard someone bring up the illustration of the children’s game of telephone? The illustration is, of course, meant to undermine the credibility of the Gospel accounts.  Since they weren't written down right away they must be hopelessly entangled with a bunch of errors due to the countless times the stories went from one person to the next.  Consider this quote from Craig Blomberg in his essay “Orality and the Parables” in Memories of Jesus: A Critical Appraisal of James D. G. Dunn’s Jesus Remembered:
“Bart Ehrman, in no less than an Oxford publication as recent as 2000 can still liken the transmission of synoptic tradition to the children’s game of telephone, in which a fairly detailed message is whispered into one child’s ear. They must then repeat what they think they heard in another quiet whisper to a second child, and the process continues throughout the room. Even with only a couple of dozen ‘tradents,’ the message becomes hopelessly garbled and usually hilarious by the time the last person repeats aloud what was whispered to them. But, of course, the first-century transmitters of the Gospel tradition were not children, were not whispering, had numerous checks and balances within the communities as they passed on the tradition, had countless reasons for valuing the tradition and its careful preservation highly, had authorized leaders who periodically traveled to ensure that the traditions were still being reported accurately, had living eyewitnesses to consult, and had the practice of taking notes for private reference on which to fall back. Most important of all, they came from cultures in which education was dominated by rote learning, in which prodigious feats of memorization were cultivated, and in which traditions deemed sacred or from greatly revered teachers were hardly treated with the cavalier attitude of a children’s party game. Those who have replicated this contemporary game among Middle Eastern students today have discovered that it does not work—people remember accurately what they are told and do not even understand the point of the exercise.” (84)
I don't want to give the impression that Dunn has argued this.  He certainly does not.  Indeed, Blomberg concludes his essay by saying he hopes "this short study has provided at least some quantificational support for Dunn's convictions."  (126)  Dunn's approach to the oral tradition, says Blomberg, "remains far more likely to approximate historical realities than those of Funk, the Jesus Seminar, and others."  (126) The above point is made against Ehrman in particular whom Blomberg says "may continue to make contrary claims, with sensationalizing titles for books, like Misquoting Jesus, but, if they do, it will be they who will be misrepresenting history and, specifically, the oral tradition of Jesus' life and teachings."  (127) 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Anthony Gill Interviews Rodney Stark on the Crusades

Dr. Anthony Gill, professor of political science at the University of Washington and non-resident scholar at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, was kind enough to alert me to his recent interview with Rodney Stark on the crusades.  As many of you know I really liked Stark's book and found it to be enlightening and very easy to read.  You can find the podcast here.  The interview is about an hour long but well worth it.  If I didn't do enough to wet your appetite for the book maybe the interview will. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Coming Soon from Baker Books - Is God a Moral Monster?

If yesterday's post was a bit too academic for some of my readers here's one that may interest a broader audience.  Coming this January Baker Books brings us Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan.  In the face of so many objections from the New Atheists this topic certainly is close to the top of their list if not at the very top.  It's been said that the motto of the New Atheists is "God does not exist and we hate him."  One of the reasons for their hatred is their continued portrayal of him in the worst possible light and the Old Testament is a rich mine field for their caricatures.  This is a much needed book and Copan is the perfect guy to write it.  Here's the catalog description:
"A recent string of popular-level books written by the New Atheists have leveled the accusation that the God of the Old Testament is nothing but a bully, a murderer, and a cosmic child abuser. This viewpoint is even making inroads into the church. How are Christians to respond to such accusations? And how are we to reconcile the seemingly disconnected natures of God portrayed in the two testaments?
In this timely and readable book, apologist Paul Copan takes on some of the most vexing accusations of our time, including:
  • God is arrogant and jealous
  • God punishes people too harshly
  • God is guilty of ethnic cleansing
  • God oppresses women
  • God endorses slavery
  • Christianity causes violence
  • and more
Copan not only answers God's critics, he also shows how to read both the Old and New Testaments faithfully, seeing an unchanging, righteous, and loving God in both."
And here's an endorsement from Gary Habermas, distinguished research professor, Liberty University and Seminary:
"The most difficult questions that can be asked about Scripture include a list of ethical challenges to several Old Testament texts and teachings.  These issues have been taken up with more fervor of late, owing to the growing popularity of radical atheism and skepticism.  There's virtually no scholar I'd rather read on these subjects than Paul Copan.  I recommend this volume heartily."
Paul Copan (PhD, Marquette University) is the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. He is author of True for You, But Not for Me (Bethany House), That's Just Your Interpretation, How Do You Know You're Not Wrong?, When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics (all with Baker), and Loving Wisdom: Christian Philosophy of Religion (Chalice Press). He has co-authored (with William Lane Craig) Creation Out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration (Baker Academic). He has co-edited three books on the historical Jesus; three other books he has coedited are on the philosophy of religion, The Rationality of Theism (Routledge), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion (Routledge) and Philosophy of Religion: Classic and Contemporary Issues (Blackwell). He has co-edited (with William Craig) Passionate Conviction and Contending with Christianity's Critics (both with B&H Academic, which also published his co-edited Apologetics Study Bible). He has contributed articles and book reviews to various professional journals as well: Philosophia Christi, Faith and Philosophy, Trinity Journal, Southern Journal of Theology, the Journal for the Evangelical Theological Society and The Review of Metaphysics.

Is God A Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God will be a paperback with 240 pages and sell for $14.99. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Coming Soon from Baker Academic - Reformed Dogmatics: Abridged in One Volume

So you've heard of the great Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck but you've been a bit intimidated by his four-volume Reformed Dogmatics.  Well, I've got some good news for you.  Coming next April (It'll be here before you know it!) is a one-volume abridged edition.  Here's the catalog description:
"Herman Bavinck's four-volume Reformed Dogmatics is one of the most important theological works of the twentieth century. The recently completed English translation has received wide acclaim. Now John Bolt, one of the world's leading experts on Bavinck and editor of Bavinck's four-volume set, has abridged the work in one volume, offering students, pastors, and lay readers an accessible summary of Bavinck's masterwork. This volume presents the core of Bavinck's thought and offers explanatory materials, making available to a wider audience some of the finest Dutch Reformed theology ever written."
Here's what just a few have said about the four-volume edition:
"Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics has been the fountainhead of Reformed theology for the last hundred years. It is by far the most profound and comprehensive Reformed systematic theology of the twentieth century. The reader will be amazed by Bavinck's erudition, creativity, and balance. Bavinck is confessionally orthodox, but he recognizes the need to rethink the traditional formulations from Scripture in the context of contemporary discussion. I hope these volumes will have a large readership and will bring forth much theological and spiritual fruit."--John M. Frame, professor of systematic theology and philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary
"Bavinck's Dutch masterwork was the Everest of which the textbooks by Louis Berkhof and Auguste Leoerf were foothills and Berkouwer's studies in dogmatics were outliers. Like Augustine, Calvin, and Edwards, Bavinck was a man of giant mind, vast learning, ageless wisdom and great expository skill. Solid but lucid, demanding but satisfying, broad and deep and sharp and stabilizing, Bavinck's magisterial Reformed Dogmatics remains after a century the supreme achievement of its kind."--J. I. Packer, professor of theology, Regent College
"Arguably the most important systematic theology ever produced in the Reformed tradition. I have found it to be the most valuable. English-speaking theology throughout the 20th century until now has been singularly impoverished by not having at its disposal a translation of Bavinck's Dogmatiek in its entirety. The appearance of these volumes will be an incomparable boon for generations of students, pastors, teachers, and others, serving to deepen understanding and enrich reflection in both historical and systematic theology."--Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., professor of biblical and systematic theology, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia
Now consider this:  The four-volume edition has 3,008 pages; the one-volume has 976.  The four-volume costs $179.99; the one volume $59.99.  Don't let anything else hold you back.  Throw that loose change in a jar marked "Bavinck" and come April you'll have enough for Bavinck and a burger.   

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) succeeded Abraham Kuyper as professor of systematic theology at the Free University of Amsterdam in 1902.

John Bolt (PhD, University of St. Michael's College) is professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, where he has taught for over twenty years.

Friday, July 9, 2010

2010 Baker Book House Small Group Workshop

One of the events I look forward to every year is our Small Group Workshop.  This year's workshop is on Thursday, August 12th at 10:00 here in the store.  We cover the newest study guides and small group materials that have come out in the past year.  This year we will have a representative from Zondervan to talk about some of their new materials.  I, and a couple of my co-workers, will present materials from other publishers like IVP, LifeWay, Baker Publishing Group and Thomas Nelson.  With the wealth of resources available it can be intimidating trying to sort through it all.  I did a quick inventory of our study guides and we currently have 1,290 to choose from!  That's a lot to wade through to find just the right study for your group.  At the workshop we highlight some of the very best of what's available, saving you valuable time.  It only lasts about an hour but we cover a lot in that time.  We also provide a handout with not only the materials we present but other resources as well.  People in the past have found this to be a valuable tool to annotate with notes and then use throughout the year as they plan their small group activities.  The guide also includes several materials which are forthcoming in the next few months. 

The event is free but we do ask that you RSVP by August 9th to reserve a seat.  The store number is 616-957-3110 or if you're out of the area you can call toll free 866-241-6733.  Some groups have a team of people who decide what the groups will study.  This is the perfect time for the whole team to gather, view the new materials and make those strategic decisions.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Where Have All the Wolves Gone?

It’s becoming more and more common for churches to say “we just want to welcome everyone no matter what they believe.” I recently read about a church which is open to all. The reporter says the pastor “doesn’t bristle at the thought of people not believing in God. He just wants them to come to church.” One of the members says “It’s such a welcoming atmosphere. There are people there who aren’t believers and when they start questioning, you really have to look at things. Questioning our faith, our Bible, is OK there. And that’s so freeing.” The pastor said he “wanted to build a church where we can do life together, where we can say, ‘Here are our beliefs but if that’s not where you’re at, that’s OK.’” He continues, “It’s not my job to make people believe in Christ. My job is to introduce people to Jesus.” I’m glad churches want to be inviting and welcoming to seekers but what happened to the role of the pastor as a “protector” of the sheep and a “guardian” of true doctrine?

Paul told Titus that “many are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” (Titus 1:9, ESV emphasis mine) Peter warned of “false teachers among you, you will secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1). Heresy is not heresy anymore it is now simply questioning the faith—and that’s OK. What are we supposed to do with 2 John 10: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting”? Robert Yarbrough in his commentary on the Epistles of John explains:
“[John] has in mind aiding and abetting people who are undercutting apostolic doctrine and leadership as represented by John. . . In John’s house-church setting, to receive opponents of Christian belief into your home meant granting to them and their doctrine the honor and respect that are due only to true Christian faith and practice. John’s point is that they stand for something else. What they stand for calls for different treatment. . . . He insists that flagrant opponents of the gospel who arise inside the church be graciously but firmly disbarred from normal involvement until they make a turnaround. How much more reasonable and necessary is it to prevent wolves presently on the outside from exercising their predatory wiles inside the (oikia, household) of the faithful?” (351-352)
This kind of language is politically incorrect and offensive to someone who is “just asking questions.” I’m all for asking questions but ask enough of them and ask them often enough and the faith of young Christians can quickly give way to unbelief. The trend today is asking questions with little regard to really finding answers. The fun is in thinking of new questions. The entire notion of “harm” coming to someone because of “beliefs” is entirely foreign to those in this mindset.

Consider these words from Ignatius to the Trallians:
"And so I entreat you (not I, though, but the love of Jesus Christ) not to nourish yourselves on anything but Christian fare, and have no truck with the alien herbs of heresy. There are men who in the very act of assuring you of their good faith will mingle poison with Jesus Christ; which is like offering a lethal drug in a cup of honeyed wine, so that the unwitting victim blissfully accepts his own destruction with fatal relish.”
“Not that I suspect anything of the kind among you; I am only trying to protect you in good time, because you are dear to my heart and I can foresee the devil’s snares ahead. So let gentleness be your weapon against them; take a fresh grip on your faith (the very flesh of the Lord) and you love (the life-blood of Jesus Christ), for there must not be any ill-feeling between neighbours. You must give the heathen no loophole, for fear the devout majority are brought into disrepute for the thoughtlessness of a few; for woe to him who makes anyone blaspheme my Name without a cause.” (The Epistle to the Trallians 6 and 8 Quoted from Early Christian Writings, Penguin Classics)
Here we find a pastor who writes out of love and care for this people. He “foresees the devil’s snares.” Beliefs have consequences and playing with heresy is like playing with poison. These thoughts and concerns are seen by many as primitive and antithetical to true community.

Jesus said “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matt. 7:15) How would some of today’s pastors respond to this? Would they say, “It’s ok. They’re not even clothed like sheep anymore because they’re not really wolves. They’re just asking questions. Why, we’re even free to question you and things you said.”

I suppose many would say I’m over reacting. I don’t think I am. I think we’ve read a little too much pop psychology and not enough of the New Testament.

The Wolves and the Sheep by Wenzel Hollar (1607 - 1677)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Larry Hurtado Starts a Blog

I'm excited to see that Larry Hurtado, professor of New Testament Language, Literature, and Theology at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, has started his own blog.  His book, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, is a masterpiece of Christological scholarship.  If anyone wants to know if the early Church had a high view of Jesus this is must reading.  His scholarship is characterized by careful attention to detail without overplaying the evidence.  Here's just a sample:
"I reiterate the observation that, in terms of the religious scruples of the ancient Jewish tradition, the most striking innovation in earliest Christian circles was to include Christ with God as recipient of cultic devotion.  What could have prompted such a major innovation in the devotional scruples and practices that were inherited from the Jewish tradition?  What might have moved Christian Jews to feel free to offer to Christ this unparalleled cultic devotion?  In light of the characteristic reluctance of devout Jews to accord cultic reverence to any figure other than God, it seems likely that those very early circles who took the step of according Christ such reverence would have done so only if they felt compelled by God.  That is, in these groups there must have been some who experienced what they took to be revelations sent by God that convinced them that obedience to God demanded of them this cultic reverence of Christ." (Emphasis his, 72) 
His blog will warrant frequent visits.  Here's his YouTube feature on How Did Jesus Become a God? 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In Store Now - The Church History ABCs

Church history for kids?  Yea, and what fun it is!  We got our copies in of The Church History ABCs by Stephen J. Nichols and Ned Bustard and it is every thing I imagined and more.  You can see two of the pages here on Jonathan Edwards and Martin Luther.  The writing is simple and clear and the illustrations are fun.  It's time we put some fun into the study of Church history and Nichols and Bustard have given us a great start.  A pleasant surprise for me was to find additional material in the back of the book on each character to help "fill in the picture."  It provides the dates when each person lived and provides some extra details plus an explanation of some of the details in the illustrations.  For example, here's what it says about the illustration of Luther:
"Engraved on the head of the mallet is Luther's seal or symbol, which consists of a black cross in a red heart in a white rose against a blue sky, all enclosed by a gold circle.  All of these have meaning for him.  Perhaps you can do some detective work and find out why.  He's also hold a lute, an early version of the guitar.  Luther loved music and wrote a number of great hymns, such as 'A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.'"  (32) 
There is also a website for the book with some fun activities and some marvelous illustrations by kids including one of R. C. Sproul with the caption "This is R C Sproul.  He makes me fall asleep."  You gotta love it. 

Finally, let me add a personal thank you to Stephen Nichols for signing a copy for me.  My manager brought it back from a recent trade show convention in St. Louis along with the happy news that Stephen has actually read my blog.  I wish this book the greatest success.  Our kids will only benefit from knowing the rich history that has preceded them.  It is only right that they get a chance to meet them.  I have three grand kids who will be growing up reading about them.  

The Church History ABCs is a hardcover from Crossway with 34 pages and sells for $15.99.  It is 9 x 12 inches. 

Stephen J. Nichols has written twelve books and is a research professor of Christianity and culture at Lancaster Bible College and Graduate School.

Ned Bustard is a graphic artist and has written and illustrated many children's book, including Ella Sings Jazz, The Story of Sir Galahad, and The Sailing Saint.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Young People Leaving the Church – Is it Really all that Alarming?

We recently attended Baker Publishing Group’s sales conference and one of the forthcoming books for Spring 2011 is You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church . . . and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman. This is understandable from a publishing standpoint since UnChristian has sold over 180,000 copies and still is the topic of many conversations. But I want to remind you of a book I think warrants a hearing and will probably get drowned out if more of us don’t draw attention to it. The book is by Bradley R. E. Wright called Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites . . . and Other Lies You’ve Been Told from Bethany House. Wright is associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut where he researches Christianity. Today I want to focus on chapter three of his book since it directly deals with this very prevalent thought of young people leaving the church at record levels.

Wright starts by acknowledging that this subject “probably more than any other covered in this book, generates overheated hyperbole.” (57) The “statistics” offered by some suggest that between sixty-nine and ninety-four percent are leaving the traditional church after graduation. Others say that only one in four members of youth groups will stay in the Christian community after they graduate. Yet another study says only four percent be evangelical believers by the time they become adults. (58) But once Wright starts to look at where some of these figures come from we realize the statistics are not much more than a house of cards. Let’s look at this last figure of only four percent. Where did that come from? Wright explains,
“Ten years ago a seminary professor did an informational survey of 211 young people interviewed in three states. The question was poorly worded, and the study probably used a convenience sample. In terms of quality, this statistic is about as valid as someone putting a survey question on their Facebook page and then having their friends and acquaintances answer it. There’s nothing wrong with doing it, it’s just not very trustworthy.” (58)
The problem, Wright says, with these dire predictions is that “every generation frets about the morals of their youth.” (60) He points out if there was ever a generation to worry about it would have been the young people of the 1960s. They rejected everything conventional but look at them now—“they are writing books and giving sermons about the problem of today’s youth.” (60) Previous generations expressed similar concerns: In 1976 a divinity professor expressed the same worries about the youth of his day. In the 1920s sociologists found parents routinely complaining about their youth and in 2800 BC an Assyrian stone tablet lamented that “our earth is degenerate in these later days . . . children no longer obey their parents.” (60) And Wright predicts (one of the few he dares to make) that in 100 years, “our great-great-grandchildren will be worried about the morals and religious behavior of our great-great-great-grandchildren.” (61)

But when we look closer at the statistics we find that they do show that young people are leaving but “we also see the same pattern with the other age groups. In fact, the percentage of the religiously unaffiliated just about tripled among people in their thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties. . . . Maybe we should be writing articles about how we’re ‘losing’ the middle aged.’” (62) We must also consider the relationship between age and religion. Wright observes that “Previous research has found that young people commonly leave organized religion as they separate from their families, but then they rejoin when they start families of their own. If this is the case, they the young people of any generation are less religious, but this changes as they age.” (69)

Wright cautions us all against forecasting the future based on linear projections. He uses this cartoon to illustrate the pitfalls of this type of reasoning:

(cartoon from
He asks us to think of it this way:
“Can you accurately predict who will win the Super Bowl next year? Do you know what will happen to a company’s stock price? Can you always pick the winner of the reality television shows that you watch? Frankly, if you can answer yes to any of these questions, you have much more profitable things to do than read this book, but I’m guessing not. If we can’t accurately forecast teams, companies, or shows, why do we think we can forecast religion, which is far larger and more complex?” (72)
I think Wright has the voice of reason in this conversation. You can visit his blog here.