Monday, August 31, 2009

A New Bible Translation is in the Making - The Common English Bible

There is yet another English translation of the Bible in the works. It will be called the Common English Bible. According to the website "[t]his new translation is sponsored by the Christian Resources Development Corp, a subsidiary funded by the United Methodist Publishing House for ecumenical partnerships in curriculum, music, and Bibles." I have not seen an official release date but we can probably expect to see portions of it in the next year or so.

The website further reports that the translation "will be used in the teaching and worship practices of congregations in at least the following traditions: Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Disciples of Christ, and the United Church of Christ." The range of translators is very ecumenical.

The rationale for this new translation is similar to many others I've read. They say, "Music and worship practices have shifted significantly in the previous 15 years, with more emphasis on image and metaphor. A new translation must attend to evocative language that is more engaging emotionally than precise, systematic syntax. Further, due to globalization, technology, and the internet, enormous changes have occurred in the English language since the major translations were prepared a generation or two in the past. The vocabulary of the English language has tripled in size to more than one million words. It is time for a new translation that responds to the more recent needs and idioms of Bible readers."

I'm not sure English has changed that much to warrant an entirely new translation. I'll wait to see what this new emphasis on "image and metaphor" looks like. As with most contemporary translations this one will be dynamic equivalent in nature.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Charles Wesley - Reflections 3

I'm making my way through the biography of Charles Wesley by John R. Tyson. I want to highlight two chapters that showed Wesley's great love--first for his family and second for the Church of England.

Charles and Sally Wesley had eight children. Of those eight only three survived infancy. On one occasion Charles received a letter from Sally informing him of the death of their son John James. She wrote, "This comes to acquaint you that our dear little babe is no more, his agony is over, but it was a hard struggle before he could depart. He was dying all yesterday from ten o'clock; about nine last night he departed." Charles wrote back for Sally to pray "Father, not as I will, but as thou wilt." In this he said, "God, who knoweth whereof we are made, and considereth that we are but dust, will, for Christ's sake, accept our weakest, most imperfect, desires of resignation. I know, the surest way to preserve our children, is to trust them with Him who loves them infinitely better than we do." (209) To read this too quickly would be a tragedy. No doubt the pain went deep. But not so deep as to shake the faith of this father who believed that God still loved his children better than he did. I could only imagine him holding this letter in his hand with a tear- stained face and the added pain of not being able to be there to console his dear wife. For some what Charles wrote will seem as little more than platitudes. But they are not. They are the thoughts of a man who was deeply entrenched in the love of God and, perhaps more importantly, his knowledge of God's for him. The saints of God are not immune to the deepest pain this world has to offer.

Frequently separated from Sally the letters between them are a living testimony of their love and devotion. Charles was sometimes frustrated that Sally did not write as much as he did. They agreed to pray for each other daily at 5:00 p.m. (202) Charles did feel a tension between his work and being separated from Sally and the kids and wrote about it often. And true to course Charles wrote hymns on virtually everything--on the occasion of their anniversary to children cutting teeth. (202 & 206) He even wrote a hymn about a family cat! (207) I was disappointed to read that he "apparently believed that to show the children his favor would spoil them." (209) But love them he did. When Charles Wesley Jr. began to show interest in music he encouraged him to pursue his desires in spite of protests from those who thought this was inappropriate and worldly. He encouraged his daughter in her poetry (but expressed concern about her wearing high heels since they made her "more liable to fall"). (212)

Wesley's marriage was a happy one. The same could not be said of John. Charles struggled with the balance of the needs of the ministry and his families needs. It became a source on tension between the two brothers. But another issue would threaten to separate the brothers even more--the issue of the Church of England.

The issue of whether the Methodist should separate from the Church of England was a source of tension between Charles and John. The issue of separation for Charles was a non-negotiable. Tyson notes that "he considered support for the Church of England an implicit requirement for membership in the Methodist societies." (215) At the heart of the issue was the desire on the part of the lay preachers to distribute the sacraments. This they could not do without the proper ordination from the Church. Charles began to refer to them as "Melchisedechians," that is, "an order of priesthood without lineage or genealogy." (218-19) In time Charles seriously contemplated leaving Methodism if they were to separate from the Church. (224 & 227) Through all of this John was convinced that his brother was "overreacting about the potential for schism" and even said Charles was guilty of bigotry. (224 & 226) For some, however, a schism with the Church already existed. The mere existence of lay preachers was itself a form of separation.

Tyson summarizes this chapter with the words of one early Methodist preacher, Adam Clarke, who said, "Mr. J. Wesley mildly recommended the people to go to the Church and Sacrament. Mr. C. Wesley threatened them with damnation if they did not." ( emphasis his, 229)

At the end of the day I saw Charles as a man of passion for both his family and his church. He loved them both and desired the best for both. He was not blind to the faults of the church but "his criticisms were usually tinged with compassion and love." (216) Current criticisms of the church today could learn much from Wesley.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

In Store Now - Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering

The topic of divine impassibility has interested me for some time. Some of you may not know what divine impassibility is. As with most doctrines there is a spectrum of beliefs about impassibility. On the more extreme end it says that God cannot be acted upon or experience any emotions. In its milder form it says God cannot suffer. Theologian A. M. Fairbairn once wrote, "Theology has no falser idea than that of the impassibility of God." More recently the German theologian J. Moltmann has all but written its eulogy. He says, "The doctrine of the essential impassibility of the divine nature now seems finally to be disappearing from the Christian doctrine of God." Perhaps Moltmann has spoken a little too soon. While certainly a minority view it is has some strong proponents who, while recognizing some weaknesses in some of its classical formulations, have understood what impassibility is seeking to protect and why it is still necessary.

I look forward to reading Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering because I think there is some wisdom in a properly formulated doctrine of impassibility. My thoughts have been mostly shaped by Thomas G. Weinandy. I read his book Does God Suffer? a couple of years ago and was very impressed with his reasoning. This new book from Eerdmans, edited by James F. Keating and Thomas Joseph White, brings together a spectrum of opinions from Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions. For those seeking to understand this doctrine and see arguments both for and against this will be a must-read volume.

It is a paperback with 357 pages and sells for $45.00.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Coming Soon from IVP Academic - Worshiping with the Church Fathers

IVP has been working hard to provide the church with access to her rich history. The newest work is called Worshiping with the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall. Previous titles have been Learning Theology with the Church Fathers and Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers. The catalog description follows:

"Christopher Hall invites us to accompany the fathers as they enter the sanctuary for worship and the chapel for prayer. He also takes us to the wilderness, where we learn from the early monastics as they draw close to God in their solitary discipline.

The focus of this book is not liturgy but more broadly worship in its corporate and individual dimensions. We enter into the patristic understanding of baptism and the Eucharist. And we come under the instruction and discipline of great spiritual teachers of prayer.

In two previous books, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers and Learning Theology with the Church Fathers, Christopher Hall has ushered us alongside the church fathers as they study the Scriptures and plumb the depths of theology. In this survey of the spiritual life of worship he informs and challenges Christians in faithful living today. Hall weaves his own experiences into his observations of the fathers' practices and teachings and so helps us close the gap of the centuries. Readers will enjoy a rich and rare schooling in developing their spiritual life."

Fair warning: an orthodox priest once told me, "Once you start reading the fathers of the church your road to Orthodoxy is a short one." A sentiment I think The Voice of Stefan would agree with.

These are valuable resources and they are at a most reasonable price of only $20.00 Look for this newest volume in January 2010. It will be paperback with 312 pages.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Charles Wesley - Reflections 2

Today we'll look at Charles Wesley and "The Poison of Calvinism." The words come from Wesley as he described those members of Methodism who became Calvinists. He says of them, "The poison of Calvinism has drunk up their spirit of love." (104) As Tyson describes it Charles not only didn't like Calvinism he had a "revulsion" to it. (102) What could create such an attitude? The Calvinists themselves. "Wesley was repulsed by the haughty pride he saw in some of those who had come to consider themselves 'the elect.'" (102) Calvinism's greatest problem is sometimes its very adherents. Make no mistake, however, Wesley had no affection for the doctrines either. Calvinism is described as nothing less than a "horrible decree," "a hellish blasphemy" and its advocates are "Priests of Moloch." (112) Charles was perhaps most poignant in his hymns. Consider this from the hymn entitled "The Horrible Decree":

Ah! gentle, gracious Dove;
And art Thou grieved in me,
That sinners should restrain Thy love,
and say, "It is not free;
It is not free for all";
The most Thou passt by,
And mockest with a fruitless call
Whom Thou has doom'd to die.

Tyson notes two figures during this controversy: John Cennick and George Whitefield. Cennick had been sent by John Wesley to be the master of the Kingswood School. As it turned out Cennick was a "closest Calvinist." When this was discovered Charles lamented, "we have set the wolf to keep the sheep." (104) Charles tried to come to some kind of understanding with Cennick but to no avail. He sent for John (who was still dealing with the "still ones") to come and help him. But it was too late. The Methodism eventually divided into Calvinist Methodists and Wesleyan Methodists. Tyson notes that this might have been the end of it if it hadn't already spread to some of their closest friends and allies in the revival--most notably George Whitefield.

George Whitefield had enjoyed great success in open air evangelism and was drawing large crowds. Charles was a man of peace and wrote to Whitefield offering an olive branch. He wrote, "My soul is set upon peace, and drawn out after you by love stronger than death." (106) Charles knew that people would have loved to drive a wedge between the two parties. Whitefield wrote back asking Charles to "never speak against election in your sermons." (106) He too desired peace as he wrote "I think I would rather die than see a division between us; and yet how can we walk together if we oppose each other?" (107) Letters were exchanged, books and hymns written and the controversy only escalated. By 1741 things began to settle and "[t]hey agreed not to preach or publish against each other with respect to this controversial doctrine." (114)

As with the "stillness" doctrine this controversy helped shape and solidify some vital elements of Wesleyan doctrine. Tyson explains, "Where he [Charles] had formerly advocated for universal salvation as one of the 'grand truths of the everlasting gospel,' now he insisted upon it. To that extent, the Calvinistic controversy found a resounding echo in almost every hymn Charles Wesley wrote after it; the Wesleyan 'all' became standard parlance in his hymns and preaching." (115)

As a Calvinist this was a hard chapter to read. To have doctrines that are so meaningful to me described as hellish blasphemy cuts to the quick. But I have seen similar rhetoric employed against my Arminian brothers and sisters. It is my prayer that the events of history can help us learn to disagree with Christian civility and love. To genuinely listen to the heart beat which lies underneath our doctrine and engage in debate which is dignified and profitable for growth.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

John Stackhouse and the Importance of Christian Bookstores

Professor John Stackhouse of Regent College has an encouraging post on the importance of Christian bookstores. Anyone from a bookstore could have written this piece so it is especially meaningful coming from someone not in the retail industry. Here is part of what he wrote:

"Buying books at a bookstore, however, means getting something for your money. It isn’t just a form of donation to the college or seminary.

We pay to have books right there on the shelves to buy now, not in a few days or weeks.

We pay to have books available to pick up, inspect, and decide about purchasing in a way websites can never emulate, no matter what cool features they add.

We pay for the wisdom and taste of professional theological booksellers who pick out the good books from the many, many bad ones. (Anyone up for some serious religious book buying at Barnes & Noble or Borders? At Wal-Mart?)

We pay for staff to advise us on what else might interest us on a topic, and also what might interest Uncle Fred or Cousin Wilma or Nephew Barney or Reverend Betty for a birthday or graduation or study leave or retirement.

We pay for information on why a book is not currently available, and perhaps on other ways of getting it (e.g., from the U.K. when it’s not available over here, particularly if it’s been published under a different title elsewhere).

We pay to be able to return things easily and confidently.

And we pay for the serendipity—not a trivial thing—of coming across books we never knew existed and for which we would never have thought to search on a website."

Thank you Dr. Stackhouse for seeing the value of our industry and giving expression to it so well. And, while I'm at it, thanks to all our customers who have kept us alive and well for 70 years. May the Lord give us 70 more.

J. P. Moreland on Logic and the Incarnation

I did my masters thesis on the incarnation and I appreciate what J. P. Moreland says here on the subject. J. P. has never been one to pull any punches. Consider these two statements from this clip:

"If the Bible teaches something that’s a logical contradiction you should disbelieve the Bible."

"Shame on you, if you claim to love Jesus, if you don’t care enough to learn what our brothers did for four centuries so that we would not affirm a contradiction. So committed was the church to the supremacy of logic."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Charles Wesley's Secret Code

I'm a little late with this as news goes but in my readings about Charles Wesley I was surprised to learn about a secret shorthand code that he used in his diaries when he wrote about sensitive issues. I was even more surprised when I learned that the code had only recently been cracked (the news story came out a year ago this month). I doubt we'll see any movies on "Breaking the Wesley Code" starring Tom Hanks but it is an interesting bit of history. Pictured here is a sample of the shorthand code.

The mystery was solved by an Anglican Priest named Kenneth Newport. It took him nine years to break the code. Some of the issues discussed were John's marriage to Grace Murray and Charles' strong opposition to any idea of the Methodists separating from the Anglican church. Newport is reported as saying, "At one point in the journal he is talking to the society at Grimsby and goes into block capitals and says 'I told them I would remain with them as long as they remained with the Church of England but should they ever turn their back on the Church they turn their back on me'." To be fair these issues were already well known to students of Wesley so it's hard to say if there is anything really new to be learned. Both of the above issues are discussed in the biography by Tyson. But it does show Wesley's concern to be discreet when discussing these things even in his own diary.

Some reports have tried to fabricate some kind of hidden "sex scandal." More responsible treatments have tried to keep things in perspective.

My post on Charles Wesley and "The Poison of Calvinism" will be up on Wednesday.

Charles Wesley - Reflections 1

I am half way through the biography on Charles Wesley. It has been a refreshing and delightful read. As the writer of between 6,000 and 9,000 hymns and sacred poems Tyson appropriately describes Charles as providing "the soundtrack for the eighteenth century transatlantic revivial." (viii) Charles wrote a hymn for everything it seems. Tyson nicely weaves the hymns throughout the book providing the occasion for their writing. Of the two brothers Charles was more reserved and often lived in the shadow of his older brother John. Charles also tried harder to "keep the movement firmly rooted in the Church of England" though both are described as "ardent Anglicans" (x-xi). He was a man of frail health, having been born prematurely, but excelled by the grace of God in the work of his service. Charles was extremely humble. His sermon editor said that he "not only acknowledged and pointed out but delighted in the superiority of another, and if there was ever a human being who disliked power, avoided pre-eminence, and shrunk from praise, it was Charles Wesley." (7 &173) He also had his faults. He had a temper and was quite often impatient with many of the lay preachers of the early Methodist movement. He often "fired them as quickly as John hired them." (x & 81-82).

Two of the most interesting chapters were on "The Snare of Stillness" and "The Poison of Calvin." I will cover the Stillness doctrine today and "The Poison of Calvin" in a later post. In 1739 a controversy broke out over the issue of "stillness." Stillness was a thought associated with the English Moravians. As John Wesley described it the Moravians did not want anything to do with what is traditionally called the "means of grace." He says they simply "wait for Christ and be still." "Not to go to church; not to communicate, not to fast, not use so much private prayer, not to read the Scriptures . . . not to do temporal good, not to attempt doing spiritual good." (86) The Moravians thought that these outward expressions could be a "hindrance to inner piety--if one depended upon them for their salvation." (84) Some of Charles' closest friends were drawn into this and it strained more than one dear friendship. One of those was John Bray. Bray was instrumental in "Wesley's evangelical conversion" and so held a close place in the heart of Wesley. (91) At first both brothers, but especially Charles, thought some sort of union might be possible but these illusions were quickly dissipated. The lessons of this controversy were important and helped shape the priorities of early Methodism. Tyson summarizes it well:

"The 'stillness controversy' taught the Methodist movement the value of its Anglican roots. It would have been easy enough to go with the 'still ones' down the road that led to a more private and more radical evangelical faith. But this controversy showed how deeply the Methodists were tied to the Anglican 'means of grace,' and how deep their desire was for 'social holiness' that made a difference in the world around them. The controversy refined the Methodists' commitment to spiritual disciplines, the Lord's Supper, and the importance of good works as fruits of their justification. In part as a result of this controversy the 'means of grace' became enshrined in all the formative documents of the Methodist societies, classes, and bands. And the Methodists continued to be committed to an Anglican understanding of the Lord's Supper. Their practical theology about 'the means of grace' was hammered out and set in place in the context of their emphasis upon sanctification and Christian perfection." (97)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Coming Soon from IVP Academic - The Historical Jesus: Five Views

Since I just received an IVP catalog you can expect to see a few posts on what they have coming out this winter. There are a few I'm anxious to see. The Historical Jesus: Five Views offers an interesting mix of authors on the topic of the historical Jesus. Here are the contributors and their chapter titles as listed in the table of contents:

1. Jesus at the Vanishing Point - Robert M. Price
2. Jesus and the Challenge of Collaborative Eschatology - John Dominic Crossan
3. Learning the Human Jesus: Historical Criticism and Literary Criticism - Luke Timothy Johnson
4. Remembering Jesus: How the Quest of the Historical Jesus Lost its Way - James D. G. Dunn
5. The Historical Jesus: An Evangelical View - Darrell Bock

I find it interesting that we have two members of the Jesus Seminar as contributors. I am familiar with all but Robert Price and though I have several disagreements with Johnson and Dunn I have learned much from them. Dunn has written a book for Baker Academic entitled A New Perspective on Jesus: What the Quest for the Historical Jesus Missed. As with all the books of this genre the best part are the responses. My own views are, not surprisingly, aligned with Bock. The responses to his essay will be most interesting.

Look for it this November. It will be paperback with 288 pages and sell for $26.00.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Coming Soon from IVP Books - God is Good God is Great

I'm already making my Christmas list and this new book from IVP Books is in the top five. God is Great God is Good: Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible is a work edited by William Lane Craig and Chad Meister. It is chuck full of some great authors with timely topics. Books like this are sealing the coffin on the New Atheists. Here's the table of contents:

Part One: God Is
1 Richard Dawkins on Arguments for God
William Lane Craig

2 The Image of God and the Failure of Scientific Atheism
J. P. Moreland

3 Evidence of a Morally Perfect God
Paul Moser

Part Two: God Is Great
4 God and Physics
John Polkinghorne

5 God and Evolution
Michael Behe

6 Evolutionary Explanations of Religion?
Michael J. Murray

Part Three: God Is Good
7 God, Evil and Morality
Chad Meister

8 Is Religion Evil?
Alister McGrath

9 Are Old Testament Laws Evil?
Paul Copan

10 How Could God Create Hell?
Jerry Walls

Part Four: Why It Matters
11 Recognizing Divine Revelation
Charles Taliaferro

12 The Messiah You Never Expected
Scot McKnight

13 Tracing the Resurrection of Jesus
Gary Habermas

14 Why Faith in Jesus Matters
Mark Mittelberg

Postscript: My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Belief in God
Antony Flew (with Gary Habermas)

Appendix A: The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism "Ad Absurdum": Review of
Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion
Alvin Plantinga

Look for it this November. It will be paperback with 272 pages and sell for $19.00.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Michael Horton on N. T. Wright's Justification

The White Horse Inn Blog will start a series over the next several weeks called "Wright Wednesdays." It will be Michael Horton's review/critique of N. T. Wright's book Justification. I know some of you may be thinking "enough already!" Well, welcome to the world of academic debate. It's not going away. My experience has been that the longer a response takes to come out the more thoughtful it is. This isn't always true of course but those who have taken their time with an issue and have given themselves the time to formulate their critique have been more helpful to me in the long run. We will see what comes from Horton's pen (or should I say keyboard?).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

John Piper, A Tornado and the ELCA

Wow! A tornado hits Minneapolis close to where the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in America (ELCA) are meeting. Is there a divine connection? John Piper says yes. Why? Because they are in the midst of discussing the issue of homosexuality which was on the agenda to be discussed at 2:00 p.m. Time of the tornado touchdown? 2:00 p.m. Piper concludes his post with these words:

"Conclusion: The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners."

The post has drawn 285(!) comments to date and it is a storm in itself. As expected the comments range from very volatile to complete support. I did not read many of them before I realized my time is too valuable to read a lot of hot-headed thoughtless reactions to one pastor's observation. You don't have to agree with Piper (I expect most will not) but too many that differed resorted to ad hominem arguments or no argument at all--just venting. I have read Piper for years and respect him greatly but I'll admit to a certain amount of discomfort with his "interpretation of this Providence." But within a strong Calvinistic framework can there be "coincidences?" One commenter asked why God did not bring a similar disaster when the Episcopalians were discussing the issue. At first blush this may seem to be a fair question. But God has not struck down all those who have "lied to the Holy Spirit" as he did with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). Without the benefit of divine revelation we would have looked at this event as an interesting coincidence of a man and wife dying on the same day. If God takes action against a sin in some fashion on one occasion is he obligated to repeat that on the next occasion of that sin? Obviously not. So why am I uneasy with Piper's conclusion?

John Woodbridge once described himself in class as a "weak-kneed Calvinist." I think that describes me here. I understand Piper's comments and they are consistent with a Calvinist theology but I don't know if I could have gone that far. Or perhaps to be more honest--I may have thought it but would not have verbalized it.

D. A. Carson makes similar statements in his book How Long, O Lord with regard to divine judgment and AIDS and the arrogance of medical science. Consider these two statements:

"The plain fact of the matter is that if there were no sexual promiscuity and no intravenous drug use, there would be no AIDS; and those who are most sexually promiscuous are at greatest risk. It is exceedingly difficult--not to say morally and biblically irresponsible--not to see a connection." (231)

"It is exceedingly difficult for anyone steeped in Scripture not to see in AIDS a firm rebuke of the arrogance of medical science." (232)

Now these statements are not made in a vacuum. Carson has his reasons and arguments which I can't rehearse here. But nonetheless he is clearly saying that some connections of divine providence and events in current society should be fairly obvious to those "steeped in Scripture." Critics will quickly respond that others who are "steeped in Scripture" disagree with Carson so what he should have said was "those who are steeped in a certain form of Calvinism" will not fail to see a connection.

Whatever you may think I believe it is worth discussing. But we need to leave off the invectives which produce nothing but heated emotions. Where do we start? Well, after I'm done with my biography on Wesley I will pick up Steven J. Keillor's book God's Judgments: Interpreting History and the Christian Faith. Funny how things can rearrange you reading priorities.

It's Time for a Biography - Charles Wesley

Every now and then I have to take a break from my academic readings and read a biography. I wish I read more of them but, I confess, I don't. This year I've read more than usual since I read three or four biographies on Calvin. By the way my favorite was by Bernard Cottret.

A year ago Eerdmans published a biography of Charles Wesley by John R. Tyson called Assist Me to Proclaim: The Life and Hymns of Charles Wesley. I started it once and was soon distracted by the lure of other titles. I've decided to pick it up again and finish it this time. I won't completely break from my other reading (I can never just read one book) but will make this my primary reading for the next week or so. I'll let you know what I think when I'm done.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Coming Soon from Brazos Press - Covenant and Communion

In the past several years I have done much more reading of both Catholic and Orthodox writers. I also have some friends in both traditions which have taught me a great deal. When I saw this new book on the biblical theology of Pope Benedict XVI I was very excited. It is Covenant and Communion by Scott Hahn.

The early endorsements are many and some from very unexpected sources. Consider this from Kevin Vanhoozer:

"Scott Hahn here renders an important service in so clearly setting forth the hermeneutical principles, biblical framework, and doctrinal positions of Pope Benedict XVI, arguably the world's most important contemporary theologian. The parallels between the biblical theology of the pope and of evangelicals, together with their respective attempts to interpret Scripture theologically in an age marked by modern biblical criticism, are particularly fascinating." (emphasis mine)

Tremper Longman says:

"As a Protestant biblical scholar, I found Scott Hahn's exposition of Pope Benedict's biblical theology both informative and inspiring. In spite of differences, Protestants need to read this book to understand how deeply we can agree on the primacy of Christ and the Word. Through Hahn, I have a new appreciation for the mind and heart of Pope Benedict."

And you don't get more Reformed than Michael Horton who says:

"Biblical theology--that is, the work of tracing major scriptural themes from promise to fulfillment--is essential for the life and health of the Church. Long before his election as pope, Benedict XVI brought his wide-ranging gifts to bear in this field in a Christ-centered exposition. Even when one disagrees with some of his conclusions, Benedict's insights, as well as his engagement with critical scholarship, offer a wealth of reflection. In this remarkable book, Scott Hahn has drawn out the central themes of Benedict's teaching in a highly readable summary that includes not only the pope's published works but also his less-accessible homilies and addresses. This is an eminently useful guide for introducing the thought of an important theologian of our time."

You can find all the endorsements here. I have come to have a deep respect for Pope Benedict XVI and can only anticipate that this work will not disappoint.

Look for it this October. It will be a paperback with 208 pages and sell for $21.99.

To see how a Protestant and a Catholic can engage in healthy dialogue yet disagree see the blog post by Kevin DeYoung on "Is the Mass Idolatrous?" with responses from Scott Hahn. Very interesting.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Coming Soon from Zondervan - Glo

Zondervan has a new software package coming out called Glo. I'm not up on a lot of Bible software but this looks like an exciting package. Take a look at the website and see the trailer.

Here's the catalog description:

"Glo is a new interactive Bible that brings God’s Word to life through HD video, photographs, animations, maps, reading plans, 360-degree virtual tours, and a unique zoomable interface for fast, easy, visual navigation on PC computers and smart phones. Glo unpacks the Bible through 5 main lenses: Bible —The most read, most trusted NIV translation of the Bible in its natural order, with resources and media related to each verse. Atlas—See where major stories of the Bible happened geographically alongside map overlays, tours, photos, and HD video. Timeline—View when the events happened chronologically and visually through a zoomable interface. Topical—Address major life questions through relevant verses on thousands of subjects from leading pastors, scholars and other experts. Media—Browse biblical content by media type, including a huge collection of HD video, virtual tours, articles, photos, art, and more."

It should be out this October and will sell for $79.99. I placed an order for 30 for the store so we will have plenty when they come out. This could make a great Christmas gift.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Three Views on The Extent of the Atonement

Michael Bird will be posting three short blog entries sometime today answering the question "For whom did Christ die?" Here are the contributors:

The Calvinist View: Paul Helm

The Amyraldian View: Michael Jensen

The Arminian View: Ben Witherington

This should prove to be very interesting, or as Michael puts it "a ripper."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Coming Soon from Baker Academic - Women in the World of the Earliest Christians

Coming this fall (November) is a title from Lynn Cohick. Reflecting her area of specialty the book is called Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancients Ways of Life. Cohick is also co-author with Gary Burge and Gene Green of the Zondervan book The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament within its Cultural Contexts.

The catalog description follows:

"Lynn Cohick provides an accurate and full picture of the earliest Christian women by examining a wide variety of first-century Jewish and Greco-Roman documents that illuminate their lives. She organizes the book around three major spheres of life: family (daughter, wife, mother, widow), religious community (including both official and unofficial activities), and society in general (work, slavery, prostitution, benefaction). Cohick shows that although women during this period were active at all levels within their religious communities, their influence was not always identified by leadership titles nor did their gender always determine their level of participation.

Women in the World of the Earliest Christians corrects our understanding of early Christian women by offering an authentic and descriptive historical picture of their lives. The book includes black-and-white illustrations from the ancient world."

The book will be a paperback with 352 pages and sell for $26.99.

Cohick is associate professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. She previously taught at Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology in Nairobi, Kenya.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Comprehensive Bibliography of D. A. Carson

Fans of D. A. Carson will be happy to know that a comprehensive bibliography has been put together by Andy Naselli (a research assistant to Carson) over on the Gospel Coalition site. Carson's sermons and articles are sorted by date (1975 - 2009), topic and scripture. There is also a listing of all his publications under "bibliography."

I have benefited greatly from Carson's writings and it was one of the high points of my seminary education to sit through one of his classes.

If you're not familiar with Carson there is a great biography of him written by Andreas Kostenberger here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Importance of Readings Books That Are Over Your Head

I am almost half way through Stephen Meyer's book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. Some of it is way over my head. I started on chapter 5 "The Molecular Labyrinth" and read this "For those without a background in biology, don't worry if some of the details get past you." (121) Two pages later I was lost. I was tempted to say the book was far too difficult for me and I should go on to something more my level. But I didn't. To avoid complete despair I skimmed the remaining part of the chapter and went on to the next chapter. The following few chapters were remarkably fascinating and considerably easier for me to follow. I will go back someday to chapter 5 and try it again but there was a lesson here.

Educator and philosopher Mortimer Adler used to encourage people to read books that were over their head. Adler in this YouTube clip says it this way, "The art of reading, I’d like to say, consists in having the skills required for lifting your mind up with a book, and nothing but a book in your hand, from understanding less to understanding more." What was the last book you read that forced you out of your comfort zone and made you think hard? For me, it is Signature in the Cell. I must say the effort, while arduous, is sheer delight.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Coming Soon from Baker Books - What Does the Future Hold

I often get asked for recommendations for books that layout the various positions on some issue or another. The books that do this best are the Counterpoint Books from Zondervan. Other publishers have followed with their own contributions (the Perspectives Series from B&H Publishing and at least one from Kregel Publications). The advantage of these books is that a representative of the position argues their position and then the other contributors respond. In this way you get, you hope, what is the best case that can be made for a respective position (though this is not always what happens). Second to these books are books which are written by one author who tells you what the positions are and their strengths and weaknesses.

Coming this January is a book from C. Marvin Pate on the various views of the millennium called What Does the Future Hold: Exploring Various Views on the End Times.

Prior to this volume I have recommended two works on this issue. The one in the Counterpoint series called Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond and another by a single author, Millard Erickson's A Basic Guide to Eschatology: Making Sense of the Millennium.

The catalog description follows on Pate's book:

"'It's the end of the world as we know it,' proclaims the popular song. And sometimes the daily news appears to confirm that forecast. The signs of the times hailing Christ's return seem to be all around. Or so it appears. But, is it really the end of the world? Christians through the ages have held to a variety of understandings of the millennium--the belief that a 1,000-year period of utopia will one day come. In this book, prophecy expert and biblical scholar Marvin Pate helpfully highlights the three major views of when Christ will return--premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism--as well as a fourth skeptical interpretation, expertly analyzing them all. This timely treatment provides a reader-friendly, accessible overview of the ongoing debate over end-times viewpoints."

I am curious about this "fourth skeptical interpretation." The book will be 160 pages and sell for $12.99. (Contrast this with Erickson's work which has 200 pages and sells for $20.00 and the Zondervan book which has 336 pages and sells for $17.99.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

9Marks eJournal on Multi-Site Churches

The latest craze among large churches is the forming of multi-site churches. As with all things new it comes with a fair amount of controversy. The May/June issue of the 9Marks eJournal was devoted to the multi-site church phenomena. It offers a good blend of essays which explain, defend or critique and discourage multi-site churches. If your church is considering adopting this model this would be an excellent resource to consult in your deliberations. Here are the essays, their authors and a one-line summary provided from the eJournal.

Presenting and Arguing for Multi-Site Church

Theological Defense of Multi-Site by Greg R. Allison
A seminary professor examines the multi-site phenomenon and offers a biblical, theological, historical, and missional argument for the multi-site church.

A Pastor Defends his Multi-Site Church by J. D. Greehar
A multi-site pastor provides a biblical, practical, and pastoral defense of his multi-site church.

Identifying and Locating the Multi-Site Church

What is this Thing Anyway? A Multi-Site Taxonomy by Greg Gilbert
Can multi-site churches be congregational? What kind of polity does a multi-site church have?

Have We Ever Seen This Before? Multi-Sites Precedents by John S. Hammett
Another seminary professor looks for multi-site churches before 1980. Here's what he finds.

Richard Baxter and the Multi-Site Movement by Jeffery Riddle
What's Richard Baxter's problem with the multi-site church? One word: shepherding.

Clouds on the Horizon by Matt Chandler
A multi-site pastor weighs in on the current state of the multi-site conversation and raises concerns about the future of multi-site churches.

Arguing Against the Multi-Site Church

Nine Reasons I Don't Like Multi-Site Churches, from a Guy Who Should by Thomas White
A young, tech-savvy seminary professor explains why he's not getting on board the
multi-site revolution.

Exegetical Critique of Multi-Site: Disassembling the Church? by Grant Gaines
A pastor-scholar weighs the exegetical arguments in favor of the multi-site church and finds them wanting.

Theological Critique of Multi-Site: Leadership is the Church by Jonathan Leeman
The local church on earth is constituted by a gathering of Christians, which means the multi-site and multi-service “church” is not a church, but an association of churches.

Historical Critique of Multi-Site: Over My Dead Body by Bobby Jamieson
Regardless of the fact that multi-site churches haven't existed for most of the past four hundred years, historic Congregationalists and Baptists have a lot to say against them.

The Alternative to Multi-Site: Why Don't We Plant? by Jonathan Leeman
The multi-site church phenomenon looks like a capitulation to consumeristic culture. We should plant instead.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Complete List of Paul's Prayers

The Scripture Zealot has compiled a complete list of Paul's prayers. The great thing about the list is that all you need to do is "mouse-over" the Scripture reference and the passage pops up. For longer passages you can click on "more" to see the entire text. I went through several of them and really enjoyed "thumbing" through Paul's prayers as I was once again reminded how often my prayers don't reflect many of the priorities of the Apostle Paul. Jeff has been providing a lot of quotes from D. A. Carson's book A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. It is one of the finest books on prayer that I've ever read. And it is eminently quotable. I'll give you this one in its longer context (my favorite part is in italics but is best understood by its context).

"For what do we commonly give thanks? We say grace at meals, thanking God for our food; we give thanks when we receive material blessings--when the mortgage we've applied for comes through, or when we first turn on the ignition in a car we've just purchased. We may sigh a prayer of sweaty thanks after a near miss on the highway; we may utter a prayer of sincere and fervent thanks when we recover from serious illness. We may actually offer brief thanksgiving when we hear that someone we know has recently been converted. But by and large, our thanksgiving seems to be tied rather tightly to our material well-being and comfort. The unvarnished truth is that what we most frequently give thanks for betrays what we most highly value. If a large percentage of our thanksgiving is for material prosperity, it is because we value material prosperity proportionately.

That is why, when we turn to Paul's thanksgivings, they may startle us; they may even seem alien, for they do not focus on what many of us habitually cherish. Paul gives thanks for signs of grace among Christians, among the Christians whom he is addressing." (40-41)

Was Jesus Born of a Virgn?

In his book, Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell asked us to imagine that someone had finally proven that Jesus was not born of a virgin. In fact his father was named "Larry" and DNA tests proved "beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births." (026) Bell's point was not to deny the virgin birth (he made it clear he believed in the virgin birth) but to ask the larger question would "the whole faith [fall] apart when we reexamine or rethink" one item of faith. (027) The question sparked a firestorm of reaction. See here for one example.

What most layman don't realize is that this is nothing new. Oh, sure they know that liberals don't believe in the virgin birth but most are not as familiar with how much the doctrine is increasingly being undermined by Christian scholars. One example is James D. G. Dunn in his book Jesus Remembered.

In Dunn's discussion of the virgin birth he is careful to note that while Jesus' birth was "special--'from the Holy Spirit' (Matt. 1.20), by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1.35). That of itself need not imply a virginal conception, but a virginal conception could well have been an elaboration of the basic affirmation, especially when Isa. 7:14 was brought into play." (347, emphasis mine). He further comments that the notion of an illegitimate birth cannot be excluded as a "historical judgment" though the inference for this is "exceedingly thin." (346) In a footnote Dunn says we "also need to be aware of the biological and theological corollaries on insisting that the virginal conception/birth was a historical fact." (347 n.48) What does this mean? He follows this with a quote, which Dunn describes as nothing more than being "blunt" from Arthur Peacocke. It reads, "For Jesus to be fully human he had, for both biological and theological reasons, to have a human father as well as a human mother and the weight of the historical evidence strongly indicates that this was so--and that it was probably Joseph. Any theology for a scientific age which is concerned with the significance of Jesus of Nazareth now has to start at this point." (347 n.48)

It is true Dunn himself never comes right out and says "the virgin birth didn't happen" but there isn't much here to give confidence in the historical veracity of the virgin birth. In fact, he offers many reasons why it would be reasonable and justifiable to deny its historicity. So, you might be thinking "who's going to read this book of 900+ pages anyway?" Answer: students who will soon be filling the pulpits of tomorrows churches. Dunn is professor of divinity at the University of Durham, England. It takes a while for the fruits of scholarship to filter into the pew. But it will come.

Those interested in learning more about the virgin birth should consult J. Gresham Machen's classic The Virgin Birth of Christ. One final thought. In my initial quote from Bell he mentions that the "followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults" had gods who were also born of a virgin. This is a myth that seems to perpetuate itself in the popular skeptic materials. I'm not saying Bell believes this to be true. He was just making an illustration. But let's set the record straight: according to Edwin Yamauchi, a specialist in Mithraism, Mithras was born "out of a rock." (In "Christianity's Beliefs about Jesus were Copied from Pagan Religions" in The Case for the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel, p. 171). As for Dionysus, Yamauchi says, "There's no evidence of a virgin birth for Dionysus." (180) Christians have nothing to fear from the alleged parallels to pagan religions and have better reasons than those afforded by Dunn in accepting the virgin birth.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dealing with Doubt

Everyone struggles with doubt and Christians are no exception. Far too many today are wearing doubt like a badge of honor. Instead of trying to work through the doubt, however, they want to simply profess their doubt and proclaim they are not ashamed of it. Well, they shouldn't be ashamed of it. But I don't think it is wise to simply stop with the recognition that we have doubts. Now not every doubt is of equal importance. Doubting infant baptism is not on par with doubting the Trinity. It's fine if we never come to a conclusion on the subjects of baptism. But to simply live with doubting the Trinity is unwise and, I believe, spiritually unhealthy. So, how do you deal with doubt. I've been encouraged by the things that William Lane Craig has said and written on the subject. Here's a couple of links to questions that were answered by Craig on his website and a segment from YouTube.

Doubts about Christianity
Dealing with Doubt

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Can A Believer Not Belong to a Local Church?

Chris Brauns, author of Unpacking Forgiveness, (reviewed here by Paul Adams) has a provocative post asking "Can someone be a believer and yet not be committed to a local church (on the misapplication of the doctrine of the invisible church)?" Brauns presses hard against the notion that a Christian can just avoid being a member of a local church.

He says, "The Bible is clear. Christians are called to be mortared into the life of a church where the Word is proclaimed, the sacraments are properly administered, and discipline is practiced. Indeed, it is characteristic of the regenerate that they will be part of a local church. Quacking doesn’t make you a duck. But, ducks do quack. A commitment to a local church doesn’t make a Christian, but Christians are committed to a church."

A couple of the comments pushed right back and Brauns agreed that the nuances provided were appropriate but that the post "was pushing on one side of the issue." Those who need to hear Brauns most are those who are cavalier about the importance of joining a church. For any number of reasons believers can find themselves without membership in a particular church. Those who commented gave some good examples. Having said that there are too many who have discarded church as having any real importance in their lives.

Brauns quotes David Wells on the doctrine of the "invisible church" which said, in part, the intent of the doctrine was never to "make what was visible unimportant." Well said.

For another perspective see the comments by Jeff on Scripture Zealot here. Also, see the comments by Mike Wittmer on Evangelical Ecclesiology and his new found love for a new book from Brazos Press by Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger called Exploring Ecclesiology.

UPDATE 8/8/08 - Brauns has provided a second post which helps clarify his position in the light of the "exceptions" which exist.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Jesus Creed Reviews John Walton's Lost World of Genesis One

I did a review of John Walton's book The Lost World of Genesis One here. Now Scot McKnight and fellow blogger RJS have started a series of posts at on the book with Walton interacting from time to time. The first post is here. I personally liked the book and think Walton has some very original thoughts on the first chapter of Genesis. If you have not read the book but would like to get a feel for some of the issues involved and Walton's take on it this would be a good place to go. But don't stop there. Get your own copy and read for yourself. Agree or disagree Walton's view merits attention and discussion.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

4th Annual Study Guide Workshop

Next week is our 4th Annual Study Guide Workshop. We will have three presenters talking about the latest and best in study guide and small group materials. We will have representatives from Baker Publishing Group and Zondervan. Chris will highlight materials from various other publishers. If you are a small group leader or are just interested in what's new in study guides you're welcome to attend. We ask that you RSVP by August 11th. The event is free and will be held here in the store.

Where: Baker Book House, 2768 E. Paris Ave, SE Grand Rapids, MI 494546

When: Thursday, August 13th at 10:00 - 11:00 a.m.

Contact us: 616-957-3110; toll free 1-866-241-6733; email:

ESV Study Bible Review by Andy Naselli

Andy Naselli's review of the ESV Study Bible (ESVSB) is available online. Naselli is currently a student in a PhD program at my alma mater Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and he is a research assistant to D. A. Carson. If you have been following my posts on Study Bibles Compared (under "Blog Categories" as "Study Bibles") you will know that I like a study Bible that offers a variety of views on controversial passages. This is a very important feature for me when it comes to a study Bible. Naselli lists some passages where the ESV Study Bible offers a variety of views without favoring one particular interpretation. Among those are: "Ezekiel 40-48; Dan 9:24-27; 1 Cor 11:24; 13:8; 2 Thess 2:5-7; 1 Tim 2:4; Heb 6:4-8; 1 Pet 3:19; and the book of Revelation." He then gives a "sampling of how the ESVSB handles some controversial issues (including when it does favor a particular view)." Here's just a few:

• Genesis 1-2 neither requires nor precludes an ordinary day interpretation.
• Both the early and late dates for the exodus are viable options.
• Pharaoh is responsible for his hardened heart, but the Lord's sovereign hand ultimately governs the hardening (Exod 4:21; etc.).
• Both the single and double fulfillment views of Isa 7:14 are viable options.
• Peter is "the rock" in Matt 16:18.
• In Matthew 24-25, Jesus "apparently intertwines prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and his second coming."
• John 6:40 "implies that no true believer will ever lose his or her salvation."
• The miracle of tongues fulfills Joel 2:28-32, "though not all of it was yet fulfilled"
(Acts 2:14-21).
• "In the early church, baptism was probably by immersion, at least as a general rule, though Christians dispute whether such a practice must always be followed literally today" (Rom 6:4).
• Salvation "is not ultimately based on human free will or effort but depends entirely on God's merciful will" (Rom 9:16).
• Rom 11:26 refers to "the salvation of the end-time generation of the Jewish people in the future."
• Paul teaches that men are women are equal in dignity and essence but distinct in their roles (e.g. 1 Cor 11:7-9, 14; 14:34-35; Gal 3:28; Eph 5:22-33; 1 Tim 2:12-13).
• NT prophecy "can have mistakes and must be tested or evaluated" (1 Cor 12:10).
• Regeneration logically precedes faith (Eph 2:5; 1 John 5:1).
• The verb "to meet" in 1 Thess 4:17 "may indicate that the subsequent movement of the saints after meeting Christ 'in the air' conforms to Christ's direction, thus in a downward motion toward the earth." This suggests a posttribulational view, but the notes do not explain the major rapture views (though the introduction to Revelation does).
• Good works are the necessary result of justification (Jas 2:14-26).
• "Jesus' sacrifice is offered and made available to everyone in 'the whole world,' not just to John and his current readers" (1 John 2:2).
• Genuine Christians "have been so transformed that they cannot live in a pattern of continual sin-though this does not mean that Christians are ever completely free from sin in this life" (1 John 3:9-10).

Naselli concludes, "No other study Bible matches the ESVSB in quantity or quality." I'm not sure I would go that far. The NIV Study Bible is still an impressive study Bible and now that it is available from Cambridge in a goatskin leather you can have a premium binding that is Smyth-sewn with high quality paper to match the ESVSB. Having said that I have enjoyed using my own ESV Study Bible and would recommend it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Coming Soon from IVP Academic: God the Peacemaker

The New Studies in Biblical Theology is such a good series that I'm always excited to see a new entry. God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom by Graham A. Cole is due out this December. Andy Naselli has posted an interview with Cole on the Between Two Worlds blog.

The catalog description follows:

"In this book Graham A. Cole seeks to answer this question by setting the atoning work of the cross in the broad framework of God's grand plan to restore the created order, and places the story of Jesus, his cross and empty tomb within it. Since we have become paradoxically the glory and garbage of the universe, our great need is peace with God and not just with God, but also with one another. Atonement brings shalom by defeating the enemies of peace, overcoming both the barriers to reconciliation and to the restoration of creation through the sacrifice of Christ. The 'peace dividend' that atonement brings ranges from the forgiveness of sins for the individual to adoption into the family of God."

It will be paperback, 320 pages and sell for $26.00.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What Great Hymn Was Written by a Life Insurance Agent?

Bob Kauflin writes on his blog, Worship Matters, about the background to the great hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness.

He says,

"The story behind Great is Thy Faithfulness should encourage every Christian who thinks of their life as ordinary. There’s no tragic story (think 'It Is Well' by Horatio Spafford) associated with this hymn. It’s just the fruit of a faithful man with a simple faith in a faithful God.

Thomas Chisholm, who sometimes described himself as 'just an old shoe,' was born in a Kentucky log cabin in 1866. He was converted when he was 27, became a pastor at 36, but had to retire one year later due to poor health. He spent the majority of the rest of his life as a life insurance agent in New Jersey. He died in 1960 at the age of 93. During his life he wrote over 1200 poems, most of which no one will ever hear.

But back in 1923, at the 'beyond his prime' age of 57, Thomas Chisholm sent a few of his poems to William Runyan at the Hope Publishing Company. One of them was Great is Thy Faithfulness, based on Lamentations 3:22-23."

Read the entire story here and be encouraged.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Baker Book House Celebrates 70th Birthday!

Baker Book House celebrates its 70th birthday this month!

All of us in the store are very excited about our 70th birthday. Actually, we don't need much of an excuse to get excited but this just puts us over the top. I consider it a pleasure to work for such a great company. That may sound like a cliche but I assure you I mean it sincerely. Pictured here are Rich Baker, president of Baker Book House (on the left) and his son Dwight Baker, president of Baker Publishing Group. They are holding the book More Than Conquerors by William Hendrickson. It was the first book published by Baker in 1939 and it is still in print today. Rich is holding a first edition copy while Dwight is holding the current edition. I didn't make it into the picture, (Not sure how that happened. I kept walking behind them while she was snapping pictures.), but I will point out that my department is pictured in the background affectionately termed "The Deep End."

Read an article from The Grand Rapids Press complete with some really cool pictures. You can also read more about the history of Baker Book House here.

We are having some great sales in the store so if you are local or can get into town stop by and check it out. The sale is through the end of this week. Come in and join the celebration.

Gerald Bray Turns Up the Heat on N. T. Wright

Theologian Gerald Bray has written a review of N. T. Wright's book Justification. This review is very different from the others I've read because this is the first review where part of the review suggests that Bishop Wright resign as Bishop or give up scholarship. Bray charges, "There is no shame in giving up scholarship, or in resigning a bishopric, when the pressures become too great, but doing a half-baked job in one is bound to lead to the suspicion that one is doing an equally half-baked job in the other, and that the longsuffering recipients of such treatment are ending up with the worst of both worlds." (104) These are strong words and I'm not sure they quite belong in a book review. Besides, Bishop Wright has managed to do quite well juggling the responsibilities of Bishop and a scholar given his past literary credits. I will admit complete ignorance on his abilities as a Bishop but I've not read of any complaints.

Bray's opinion is more than clear when he asserts "Bishop Wright has let us down badly." Bray is forceful in his expression and unbending in his certainty the Wright is wrong. I'm afraid that whatever points Bray has that may be valid will be ignored by readers who are turned off by his tone especially of the final two paragraphs.

Gerald Bray is Research Professor of Samford University and a Church of England minister. He also teaches specialized short courses for Beeson Divinity School.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Helm on Why Covenant Faithfulness is not Divine Righteousness

Paul Helm continues his review and critique of N. T. Wright's book Justification with the latest article entitled "Why Covenant Faithfulness is not Divine Righteousness (and cannot be)." Helm writes as a philosopher in this essay. His criticisms are related to "points of logic, or conceptuality" but urges they are "none the worse for that." For exegetical support he refers the reader to Piper's book The Future of Justification.

In a nutshell Helm argues that Wright "treats righteousness solely in terms of God's actions." He agrees with Piper that defining God's righteousness as covenant faithfulness does not go deep enough "because it does not start with the character of God, but with his actions." He recognizes the current fashion to think of theology in some sort of narrative form. He cites Horton (covenant), Vanhoozer (speech-act theory and 'theodrama') and Wright (history). The problem with all these narrative approaches is they cannot provide a doctrine of God. "Being, the being of God, must come first; acting is a consequence of being. . . In God's case, doing righteously follows from being righteous. Acting faithfully is a consequence of being faithful, of having a faithful character, or a character apt for being faithful."

I suspect the response from Wright could be that he is simply using terms, "righteousness" in particular, the same way that Scripture uses them and is not concerned to know if that word also refers to that quality of God's character which underlies his actions. This would be similar to an Eastern Orthodox understanding which says we only know God through his actions and can't know his nature. I'm not sure Wright would go that far but I'm only speculating on what his response to Helm would be. I think much of what Helm says bears hearing and can't be swept under the "that's just philosophical speculation" rug.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

William Dembski and a Honda Ad

William Dembski in his book The End of Christianity (forthcoming Nov 2009) has a chapter entitled "Moving the Particles." The chapter is devoted to the problem of how an immaterial Being (God) "can influence the natural world without imparting any energy." (116) The short answer lies in the dispersal of "information." As he says, "All that is required is that God build in the necessary information from the start so that it gets expressed at appropriate times and places." (119) He continues,

"The most vivid illustration I know of careful prearrangement leading to extraordinary results is a commercial by the automobile manufacturer Honda. This commerical, a two-minute film called 'Cog,' records a complicated chain reaction of events (like dominoes falling, only much more spectacular). The film begins with a transmission bearing, which rolls into a synchro hub, which rolls into a gear wheel cog, which falls off a table and lands on a camshaft, and so on. . . Although the prearranged chain reaction in 'Cog' suggests full physical determinism, God's front-loading of information in the universe requires nothing of the sort."

The discussion is fascinating and made richer by wathcing the commercial. Take a look:

In Store Now - Jesus and the Gospels

I gave you heads up on this book back in June and I'm happy to say it has arrived in the store. At the time I didn't know what the revision would entail and I haven't had time to sit down with it. Dr. Blomberg gives a nice summary of the changes on his blog.
He says,

"So what is different about the new edition of my book? First, it’s about 15% longer. Particularly in the sections on social-scientific study of the ancient Mediterranean world, on literary criticism of the Gospels, on background to the Gospel of John, on the historicity of the Gospels more generally, on the quest of the historical Jesus, and on the Gnostic and other apocryphal Gospels, I have added extra material. These are areas on which there has been an intense flurry of scholarship in the last twelve years, since the first edition came out."
There's more. . . continue reading here.