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)

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

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

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)