Saturday, October 31, 2009

Coming Soon from Bethany House: Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites

Here's a book I'm interested in reading. Bradley R. E. Wright is associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut.

Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites . . . and Other Lies You've Been Told presents a more hopeful and positive look at the church in contrast to works like UnChristian. Wright is a quantitative sociologist and favors statistics that are peer-reviewed and use large sample sizes (unlike Barna, Lifeway, and other Christian researchers, who will often use surveys of only a few hundred respondents and never peer-review their work.)

You can see a 13-part review of UnChristian by Wright on his blog. I found it informative, insightful and confirmed some of my suspicions.

The catalog description follows:

"According to the media, the church is rapidly shrinking, both in numbers and in effectiveness. But the good news is, much of the bad news is wrong. Sociologist Bradley R. E. Wright uncovers what's really happening in the church: evangelicals are more respected by secular culture now than they were ten years ago; divorce rates of Christians are lower than those of nonbelievers; Christians give more to charity than others do. Wright reveals to readers why and how statistics are distorted, and shows that God is still effectively working through his people today."

This is a book that will definitely be swimming against the tide but deserves a hearing. Look for it next July. It will be a paperback with 256 pages and sell for $14.99.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Coming Soon from Baker Academic: Jesus and the Land

This past Tuesday I attended sales conference for Baker Publishing Group and was able to see the forthcoming titles for Summer 2010 (May - August). Over the next couple of weeks I will feature some of the titles I found particularly interesting.

This first title is from Gary M. Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College called Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to "Holy Land" Theology. The early praise for this book is impressive. Consider this from Craig Blomberg:

"Gary Burge may be American evangelicalism's foremost expert on a biblical theology of the land of Israel. This book reintroduces sanity, common sense, and exegetical acumen into a discussion that often sadly lacks these traits. Absolutely essential reading for any Christian who wants to hold a biblically defensible position on the topic."

Klyne Snodgrass says "For many years Gary Burge has focused on issues relating to Palestinians and the land of Israel. In this careful survey of biblical material, he pulls the rug from under any Christian emphasis on a special status for the land of Israel and from under Christian Zionism. Churches and pastors need to give serious attention to this study and follow its lead."

Walter Brueggemann comments, "A valuable contribution to the ongoing matter of the 'Holy Land' so contested by Israelis and Palestinians. . . Burge's reading of Scripture is persuasive and provides a fresh way to think about 'faith and land.'"

Burge just recently published a popular treatment from Zondervan entitled The Bible and the Land. You can get a good look at it on Koinonia.

Jesus and the Land is due out April 2010. It will be a paperback with 192 pages and sell for $22.99.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Consider the "Rest of the Story" to Sin

Mollie Ziegler Hemingway wrote an article for Christianity Today which is very good. She notes how once a prominent Christian falls the media doesn't miss a beat in reporting it and "we're treated to an endless news cycle about hypocrisy." "But", she says, "hypocrisy isn't failing to practice what you preach. Hypocrisy is pretending to have beliefs that you don't actually have. Real hypocrisy is rare and difficult to discern." This is so refreshing to read because hypocrisy is a word thrown around so often today with virtually no understanding as to it real meaning.

According to Hemingway the media is confused about the issues of sin and forgiveness because the church is confused too. Once Christianity is reduced to mere moralism then the preaching is also often reduced to preaching and teaching "the importance of our own moral actions, thereby belittling the importance of what Christ has done for us." The Gospel provides the good news for the vexing problem of sin in our lives and this is the story for which the media has no part.

I cannot improve on her final two paragraphs:

"Each and every week, we are confronted with the truth that we are all poor, weak sinners who have fallen short. We confess our sins and receive absolution. We hear the beautiful gospel preached, and we receive Holy Communion. For major-league sinners like me, the good news of forgiveness gives life and strengthens faith.

The struggle with sin unfortunately continues throughout our lives. That is why Ambrose of Milan said of the Eucharist, "Because I always sin, I always need to take the medicine." It's fine for the media to shine a spotlight on Christian sin. But it would be nice if they included the rest of the story, too."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thomas Nelson Announces New Imprint

Thomas Nelson recently announced that it is beginning a new imprint called WestBow Press which will feature self-published works. Michael Hyatt, CEO of Nelson, gives three reasons for this new vision:

1. We think there is huge growth potential in this category. Increasing numbers of people are moving from being merely consumers to being creators. They want to express themselves creatively. Just witness the phenomenal success of user-generated content sites like YouTube, Flickr, and Scribd.

2. We want to offer a legitimate alternative to traditional publishing. Why should all the power be in the hands of publishers? If prospective authors are convinced their book should be in print and are willing to fund it, they should be able to do so without the fear that they might be ripped off.

3. We want to find the new voices for tomorrow. Publishers aren’t omniscient. We miss numerous opportunities every year. Finding the next bestseller is like searching for a needle in a haystack. WestBow Press provides us with a kind of “farm team.” We intend to watch the sales of these titles carefully. We will offer traditional publishing contracts to those authors whose self-published books begin to gain traction.

Hyatt explains that the name "WestBow" was chosen for a very particular reason. "West Bow Street in Edinburgh, Scotland is the place where a young, eighteen-year-old visionary named Thomas Nelson first started his publishing company in 1798. It is our hope that WestBow Press can be the place where authors with a dream to be published can also launch their writing careers."

If you have a book to publish and have not had success with traditional publishers this may be for you.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Historical Jesus: Five Views - A Review 5 - Responses to Crossan

Today we come to the responses to the essay by John Dominic Crossan. I found them to be insightful and some came with just a sting or two. More than one response critiqued Crossan for his selective use of source material especially in the Gospels. Price notes “Time and time again amid the deliberations of the Jesus Seminar, I found myself puzzled, shaking my head at the group’s decisions to vote as red (= surely authentic) sayings that Bultmann wouldn’t have touched with a ten-foot pole in his History of the Synoptic Tradition.” (135) Johnson said it was telling “that of all the details concerning Jesus’ movement near or away from the lake are drawn precisely from those narrative portions of the Gospels that Crossan’s methodological principles-established and elaborated in his earlier writings—have already removed from the historian’s available database.” (142) And remember how Crossan said Price’s treatment of Josephus was “not acceptable scholarship?” Well, here’s what Dunn says of Crossan, “The selective acceptance of one sequence of texts, and effective dismissal or denigration of others . . . is poor scholarship.” (145)

The next big common criticism was that Crossan has an over active imagination. Price complains that Crossan creates a superstructure “from first century history and sociology connected with Herod and his motives of self-advancement—exactly none of which is set forth in the text.” (136) Johnson says the juxtapositions Crossan creates between Herod and Jesus don’t stem from the ancient actors or sources by “are entirely due to Crossan himself” and his thesis of “Romanization by urbanization for commercialization” is a product of Crossan’s imagination.” (141)

Price concludes that Crossan has “fallen into the trap of creating a liberal Jesus in his own image” and, tellingly asks, though it could have been said with less sarcasm, “can we picture Herod understanding (I’m not sure I do) what some guy organizing a soup kitchen for lepers has to do with hopes of overthrowing Roman and Herodian rule?” (136 & 137) Bock asks, “why does Jesus challenge customs associated with the Sabbath or ritual cleanliness if Rome is his central concern?” Furthermore, “Jesus is less concerned about who owned the lake than who owned the heart of the people who claimed to be God’s within Israel.” (149) Dunn concludes that Crossan leaves us with a Jesus “who is far too nice to be worth crucifying.” (147)

As insightful as the comments are I sometimes found myself wanting more. For example, Johnson says “not unlike N. T. Wright, Crossan consistently commits the historical fallacy of having ancient characters act and think in virtue of realities that can be known and named only by the present-day historian.” (139) The comparison to Wright is intriguing in its own right. But unlike some of his other comments this one stands alone without further explanation. When I first read it I wrote in the margin “good observation” but as I got to thinking about what “fallacy” is being referred to and that it is something that is “consistently” done I really wished more had been said. The same is true from the other responders. So, I’m back to wondering would the book have been even better if it were only four views and allowed more space for responses.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Larry Hurtado on How Did Jesus Become a God

Larry Hurtado is Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology at Edinburgh University, Scotland and author of Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity and How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?: Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus. His research has significantly advanced the discussion on what the earliest Christians thought about Jesus. Hurtado provides solid evidence that Jesus was thought of as divine within just a few short years after Jesus death and resurrection. Indeed, in this video Hurtado says if you want to be a bit more daring you could say it perhaps happened within the earliest weeks or months after Jesus death but we don't have any evidence from that period. At the end of the video he contrasts his view with that of Maurice Casey and James (Jimmy) D. G. Dunn who hold to a more "evolutionary" view which sees the divinity of Jesus as developing over several decades after Jesus death (that discussion starts at 6:41 if you want to skip ahead). Enjoy!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What Color Should My Advent Candles Be?

I'm very excited about observing the coming Liturgical Year. But it didn't take long before I ran into a snag. What type of season is Advent?

I've discovered that historically (and here) it has been a penitential season but that in more recent times the focus has changed to anticipation and hope. The latter theme was so prominent in my own understanding of Advent that when I first read that Advent was a penitential season I thought for sure the writer didn't know what he was talking about. I was the ignorant one. As a matter of fact Advent is sometimes referred to as "little lent."

Many feel so strongly about preserving the meaning of Advent that they will refrain from singing Christmas songs during Advent. But as we know American commercialism starts "Christmas" as early as September or earlier. Advent gets pulled into the prevailing atmosphere of good tidings and joy so any thoughts of repentance would just be perceived as a bit of a kill joy.

In light of the focus on hope and anticipation many churches have changed the colors of advent from purple to royal or bright blue as a sign of royalty or the night sky in anticipation of the announcement of the newborn king. Now I certainly don't have any credibility to weigh in on this debate but I found it an interesting one. My inclinations are to keep to the more traditional penitential theme since it does not have to exclude the themes of anticipation and hope. I can see how the latter themes could easily eclipse the notion of repentance or marginalize it at best. For now I think I'll stick with three purple and one pink (which, from my understanding, represents joy). Even here there are choices to be made. Do I light the pink candle on the third or fourth Sunday of Advent? I'm not going to lose sleep over any of this but I do want to understand what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. I want to get as much out of it as I can. I want to grow as a result of my participation and not simply chalk it up on my "things I've done" in my life list.

I think I've found a church that I can go to without taking me away from my regular church that has a traditional liturgical service. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

In Store Now - People of the Spirit

Well, I just can't keep up with everything that is coming in. This newest title from Graham H. Twelftree is People of the Spirit: Exploring Luke's View of the Church. I've come to appreciate Twelftree as a careful scholar. I look forward to reading this latest work from him. The recommendations have already piqued my interest even higher than it already was. Here's just a few:

"A fresh and refreshing look at Luke's understanding of the church, particularly as informed by the Acts of the Apostles. The reading is challenging and often controversial but is probably closer to what Luke himself intended than most others. The book should certainly promote some lively discussion as to the present-day church's praxis, priorities, and structures of authority."--James D. G. Dunn, Emeritus Lightfoot Professor of Divinity, University of Durham

"By singling out Luke's canonical voice and reading his narrative as teaching, this book attains fresh perspective on what 'church' meant to the author of Luke-Acts and what it should mean to us. Twelftree models attention to detail, painstaking organization, and concise expression. Readers will find learning, stimulation, and challenge in every chapter. Engaged, intense, and clear!"--Robert W. Yarbrough, professor of New Testament and department chair, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"I know of no treatment of Luke's view of the church more thorough and excellent than Graham Twelftree's. Here is perceptive historical and theological analysis that is exegetically based and logically compelling. Twelftree's book yields important, fresh, and abundant practical insights for Spirit-gifted people who desire to fulfill the church's goal of continuing the mission of Jesus."--Donald A. Hagner, George Eldon Ladd Professor emeritus of New Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary

People of the Spirit is a paperback with 269 pages and sells for $24.99.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Historical Jesus: Five Views - A Review 4 - John Dominc Crossan Essay

John Dominic Crossan is a member of Jesus Seminar, a prolific writer and an engaging speaker. I see him on almost every interview or PBS special that covers the topic of Jesus. Crossan says he begins his methodology by “trying to imagine as if Jesus had never existed—I begin with the Roman Empire and the Jewish tradition in interaction with it.” (106) He therefore begins by painting a portrait of the Roman Empire and summarizes their “theology” as “peace through violent victory.” (108) He then briefly examines Judaism and summarizes their theology as “peace through nonviolent justice.” (111) Crossan steps back into the Roman context with particular focus on Herod Antipas and asks a very particular question: “Why is Jesus so often found around the Sea of Galilee, the Lake of Tiberias, the harp-shaped Lake Kinneret.” (112) Crossan’s answer begins with an overview of the life of Herod Antipas in a “drama of acute disappointments over six sequential acts.” (113) We discover in the third act that Herod was “founding Tiberias to commercialize the lake and its fishes in the name of Rome’s empire and both John and Jesus clashed with him in the name of Israel’s God. Who owned the lake and how it was to be used was but a microcosm question to the macrocosm question of who owned the earth and how it was to be used. It was not about salted fish and fish sauce in Rome’s world but about equality and justice in God’s world.” (116)

Crossan says that John the Baptist, while he did not advocate a violent revolution, he did see the kingdom of God as involving “divine—even if exclusively divine—violence.” (117) Herod, seeing this, had John executed. Jesus, seeing John executed, “watched, learned and changed his vision of God.” (123) This change represents a paradigm shift within eschatology—from violent to nonviolent. Jesus was, however, “quite wrong and misguided” in thinking the kingdom of God was imminent and “neither special pleading nor semantic evasion can rectify that situation.” (121) Crossan says that “Jesus started accepting John’s theology of God’s imminence but, precisely because of what happened to John, he changed from that to a theology of God’s presence.” This should not be confused with the idea of an “already-present kingdom.” “The present kingdom is a collaborative or participatory eschaton, an eschatological dialectic between human and divine worlds.” (125) But this “Great Divine Clean-up” as he calls it could not happen without God and equally could not happen without believers.

Crossan ends with a discussion of Jesus as a healer. He distinguishes between a disease being cured and an illness being healed. He illustrates the distinction from the movie Philadelphia where Tom Hanks portrayed a man dying of AIDS. The “disease could not be cured but, his illness was being healed by the support of his partner, his family and his lawyer’s successful suit against his law firm’s illegal discrimination.” (128) He concludes, “The healing of illness by Jesus and his companions must be understood in a framework of a preventive social revolution, in Light’s terms, and in a framework of the kingdom of God’s Great Cosmic Clean-Up of the World, in their own even more radical terms.” (129) For Crossan then, “the first and most important discussion about the historical Jesus should be on his vision of collaborative eschatology—for then and now.” (131) The issue finally comes down to the difference between the eschatological kingdom of God and the imperial Kingdom of Rome or between “Jesus’ nonviolence and Pilate’s violence.” (132) Next time we’ll look at the responses.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

In Store Now - God is Great, God is Good

If you're looking for a response to the New Atheism which is scholarly yet readable look no further than God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible. In an earlier post I listed the contributors and the chapter titles. But now it's here and I really like it. I quickly read the first chapter by William Lane Craig entitled "Richard Dawkins on Arguments for God." This was fairly easy since I'm familiar with much of Craig's arguments. But the gloves came off when Craig finished up his discussion of the ontological argument with this:

"Dawkins also chorltes, 'I've forgotten the details, but I once piqued a gathering of theologians and philosophers by adapting the ontological argument to prove that pigs can fly. They felt the need to resort to Modal Logic to prove that I was wrong.' But this is just embarrassing. The ontological argument is an exercise in modal logic--the logic of the possible and the necessary. I can just imagine Dawkins making a silly ass of himself at this professional conference with his spurious parody, just as he similarly embarrassed himself at the Templeton Foundation conference in Cambridge with his flyweight objection to the teleological argument." (30)

The New Atheism gets a lot of press these days. But from most of it I see more ridicule than refutation. Nonetheless questions are raised and some objections deserve an answer. Here is a handy volume that will provide those answers. Each chapter also includes suggestions for further reading. I'll probably do a proper review at a later date.

It is a paperback with 265 pages and sells for $19.00.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Historical Jesus: Five Views - A Review 3 - Responses to Price

We now come to the four responses to Price's essay which argued that the historical Jesus did not exist.

James D. G. Dunn's first sentence summed up my initial reaction: "Gosh! So there are still serious scholars who put forward the view that the whole account of Jesus' doings and teachings are a later myth foisted on an unknown, obscure historical figure." (94) Luke Timothy Johnson hit the nail on the head by noting that "Price gets Jesus to the vanishing point by the simple expedient of denying all the evidence that makes him visible." (89) Furthermore he said it is hard to respond to Price "due to the difficulty of demonstrating the presence of an object to someone who insists that whatever you bring forward as evidence cannot count." (91) Along the same lines Dunn said he becomes irritated with Price because "he ignores what everyone else in the business regards as primary data and his readiness to offer less plausible hypotheses to explain other data that inconveniences his thesis." (96)

Both Darrell Bock and Johnson fault Price for too quickly dismissing the evidence from Josephus. Surprisingly though his harshest critic on this score comes from Crossan. He says, "Price's comment, 'Let me leapfrog the tiresome debate over whether the Testimonium Flavianum is authentic' is not an acceptable scholarly comment as far as I am concerned." (86) Crossan further argues that the hero typology that Price points to with Jesus "no more negates his historical existence than the similar investment for Augustus negates that emperor's historical identity." (85)

All the responders raised objections based on material that Price ignores or dismisses. As Bock says, "Analogy plus dissimilarity is what is commanded, but the search for other criteria was dismissed." (100) In the hands of Price, Bock argues, the criteria has the same tone: "heads I win; tails you lose." (100) Dunn says the fatal flaw with the Jesus myth boils down to this: "the improbability of the total invention of a figure who had purportedly lived within the generation of the inventors, or the imposition of such an elaborate myth on some minor figure from Galilee. Price is content with the explanation that it all began 'with a more or less vague savior myth.' Sad, really." (95)

One of the most poignant points was made by Crossan. He asks, what is lost if Jesus is merely reduced to the level of a parable? He responds, "only the incarnation . . . Only, in other words, the heart of Christianity itself." But the apostle John did not say, "God so loved the world that God sent us a story." (86) Now Crossan does not understand the incarnation in the same way as evangelicals but his point his very well stated.

Each response was done within the span of five pages. The uniformity suggests this was a limit placed by the editors rather than this is all they could think of to say. But I will say they managed to make some very good points, and some came with quite a sting, in that limited amount of space. Each of them focused on different elements of Price's essay with minimal overlap. If the remaining essays and responses can maintain this level of interaction then this volume will be everything I expected and more.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mark Galli - In the Beginning, Grace

Mark Galli is one of those authors I love to read. He's honest, humble and possesses penetrating insight. For those who aren't familiar with him Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today and the author of one of my favorite books, Jesus Mean and Wild. He also writes a biweekly online column called SoulWork.

He recently wrote an article called In the Beginning, Grace. He says that many have identified various problems within the evangelical movement. Having identified the problem people have offered up a plethora of solutions supposedly tailored made to resolve each problem. Galli says we have a kaleidoscope of answers.

"Some of these movements focus on the lack of personal morality, and so champion accountability groups or the spiritual disciplines as the key to renewal. Others attack our individualism and strive to create a church life that is more meaningful, everything from "house church" to "simple church" to "deep church" to "missional church" to "ancient-future church." Some are most concerned about the lack of spiritual fervor, and put their hope in the Holy Spirit as experienced in charismatic gifts. Some believe we're not thinking right, and they experiment with new ways of framing the faith, from postmodern theology to new perspective to neo-Calvinism to theology of the kingdom. Some say evangelicals are captive to white culture, and so advocate multiculturalism. Some say we just need to get back to the basics and start following Jesus."

The problem, Galli argues, is that "we frame the problem horizontally" and we tend "to undermine the vertical." He fleshes out this distinction between horizontal and vertical by looking at three popular solutions: 1) the re-emergence of spiritual formation, 2) renewal of social concern, and 3) increased awareness of the variety of races and ethnicities. Even in their better moments when one of these solutions is framed in the vertical it tends to come second to our call to action. So for spiritual formation, for example, he says, "If we continually put the horizontal first, spiritual formation will, as it has in other ages, morph into an oppressive human religion." As for the renewed interest in social concern he rightly observes "it has been the rare social justice appeal that grounds itself in the gospel of grace, in the Cross and Resurrection, in the miraculous gift of forgiveness, and in the immense gratitude that naturally flows from that gift." Finally, as for the appeal for greater ethnic variety he notes "as if the flourishing of church depends on our ability to make it more diverse. . . Missing here and in many such worthy efforts is an emphasis on God's power, not human example." (emphasis mine) I emphasize Galli's words in the last quote because I don't want any one to think he doesn't recognize the value of much of what he sees. The problem is they quickly become a solution in and of themselves apart from any need of God's power or grace. We are right back to the tower of Babel. He says,

"But when we presume on the grace of God; when we act as if it is a given and not a daily miracle; when we quickly and thoughtlessly say that 'everything depends on grace' and rush on to the real business at hand (what we have to do, and how we have to get other people to do, say, or experience something); when we assume that the problem is merely a matter of the will—we can be sure we are making a name for ourselves and no longer living and doing in the name of our Lord." (emphasis his)

So what are we supposed to do? The question is a natural one but indicative of our problem. We're right back to thinking of what we should do. Galli promises provide answers in later articles and I can't wait to read them. He concludes, "Sometimes, just when we're excited about doing God's work, we are called on to first wait, in particular for the judgment and grace of God to become manifest among us again (Acts 1 and 2). So, I'll "wait" for Galli's future articles to help guide us in what it looks like to live more vertically.

In Store Now - Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller

I've had several customers on the look out for this book so I wanted to let you know as soon as it arrived. We received our copies today so if you've been waiting come on in and get your copy.

Timothy Keller is author of the best-selling book The Reason for God and The Prodigal God.

It is hardcover, 210 pages and sells for $19.95.

Prayer for the Beginning of the Day from the Mosaic Bible

I just received my copy of the Mosaic Bible from Tyndale (thank you Gary) and was looking through it and was struck by this prayer from Philaret of Moscow (Russia/1782-1867). This is a great prayer for someone in retail. Of course the prayer is for anyone and everyone and I'm pretty sure Philaret was not thinking of retailers when he penned this but I found it uniquely appropriate in a number of places.

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon thy holy will. In every hour of the day reveal thy will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with firm conviction that thy will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events let me not forget that they are sent by thee. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray thou thyself in me. Amen. (275)

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Historical Jesus: Five Views - A Review 2 - Robert Price Essay

The first viewpoint presented is by Robert M. Price. He is professor of theology and scriptural studies at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, Miami Gardens, Florida. Both he and John Dominic Crossan are members of the Jesus Seminar. In a nutshell Price argues that the historical Jesus never existed. Early on he makes it clear that he is not against Christianity. He describes himself as a “happy Episcopalian” who rejoices to “take the Eucharist every week and to sing the great hymns of the faith.” For him “the Christ of faith has all the more importance since [he] think[s] it most probable that there was never any other.” (56)

Price asserts five “commandments” for historians. The first is the most important and is the principle of analogy. Basically this means that we have to judge history by our own experiences. “If in our experience it takes a whole army to defeat an army, we will judge improbable any ancient tale that has a single man defeating an army.” (56) Furthermore, if an experience does not match our own but does conform to the analogy of myth or legend we would be justified in considering it as just another myth. While many skeptics use this principle to disavow many of Jesus deeds Price goes the extra mile in using it to dismiss the sayings of Jesus. He argues that the oral transmission of Jesus’ sayings is improperly set in the context of tradition of the rabbis and their disciples which saw the disciple as not losing a word of his master. Rather, it is better seen as similar to the “transmission of the hadith of Muhammad” which saw “thousands of spurious sayings” developing “only a century after Muhammad.” (58)

Price’s second commandment is the criterion of dissimilarity. Essentially this maintains that “no saying ascribed to Jesus may be counted as probably authentic if it has parallels to Jewish or Christian sayings.” (59) Price believes scholars have rejected this criterion, not because it doesn’t work, but because “it made the game too difficult to play” and “when one objects that the criterion is too strict because it doesn’t leave us enough pieces of the puzzle, agnosticism is transforming into fideism.” (60)

The third commandment is to “remember what an ideal-type means.” This is an important point for Price because he draws a lot of parallels between Jesus and mythological figures from the mystery religions, the dying-and-rising gods and Gnosticism among others. He is also well aware that countless scholars have shown time and again why these parallels don’t hold up. Price argues that an “absolute likeness” is not required. “Rather, the idea is that if discreet phenomena possess enough common features that a yardstick may be abstracted from them, then each member may be profitably measured and better understood against the yardstick.” (61)

The fourth and fifth commandments are “consensus is no criterion” and “scholarly ‘conclusions’ must be tentative and provisional, always open to revision.” (61-62) Were Price's own position not such a minority view I doubt he would ever mention these two.

Building on these commandments Price says the “Christ-myth theory” rests on three pillars: 1) “Why no mention of a miracle-working Jesus in the secular sources?” 2) “the Epistles, earlier than the Gospels, do not evidence a recent historical Jesus” and 3) “though the Epistles name the Christian savior Jesus, it is quite possible . . . that they attest to an even earlier stage of belief in which the savior received the honorific name Jesus only as of his postmortem exaltation.” (63-64)

Price offers a lengthy survey of the Gospel of Mark as nothing more than “the product of haggadic midrash on the Old Testament.” (67-75) Finally, come all the parallels to the mythic heroes and the problems of attempting to root the Gospels in any kind of history. All hopeless endeavors as far as Price is concerned. He says, "Consider the fact that at every point where the gospel story appears to obtrude on contemporary history, there are serious difficulties in taking the narratives as historical." (79) Price follows Arthur Drews in arguing that one of the main reasons it was important to anchor Jesus in history was to provide an authoritative figurehead who had appointed successors and set policy. (81)

I’ve spent more time than I planned on Price because his essay will be the most controversial of the book and because rarely will most Christians hear a “scholarly” presentation on the non-historicity of Jesus. I had hoped to cover in one post the essay and its responses but given the length of this post already I will save the responses to Price for next time.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Following the Liturgical Year - Help for a Novice

I would like to follow the liturgical year this year but would like some suggestions or guidance on the best way to go about it. Is it just reading the right passages from the lectionary on the appropriate Sundays? How do feast days fit in? I'm just a Baptist who is looking to gain a better appreciation for the church year and want to get the most out of it. If I'm right 2009-2010 is year C. Does it matter if I mix traditions (Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Catholic) or should I pick one and stick with it? I would like to make regular posts throughout the year (probably on Sundays) on my experience. I don't mean for this to be just an "experiment" as much as it is an initial step in orienting my year around the acts of God rather than the four seasons or the school year. Whatever advice you can offer would be most appreciated.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Trick or Treat? What's a Christian to Do?

Yesterday I got my first call from a customer looking for something on Halloween. It's that time of year again and inevitably we get people looking for one or two things: books exposing the occultic origins of Halloween and/or Halloween tracts. I've noticed a significant decrease in the number of books published on the topic but the tracts are still plenty available.

It seems the church has divided into two camps (there's always some in between but for my purposes we'll just look at the two basic positions). The first position says that Christians should have nothing to do with Halloween since it is, at its core, evil and satanic. The second position says as Christians we should not turn away from Halloween but rather redeem the day for the glory of God. There is a host of rumors and inaccurate information surrounding the issue which doesn't help. The Internet abounds with such information but rarely do you find much that is documented. My intent here is not to change opinions but to provide a couple of links from various viewpoints. My citation of them does not mean I support their position. For the record I lean toward a redemptive view.

For the redemptive view:

Matters of Opinion: Hallowing Halloween by Anderson Rearick III, (Christianity Today article from 2000).
CT Classic: Is Halloween a Witches' Brew? by Harold L. Myra (Christianity Today article from 2000).
Christians and Halloween by Travis Allen, 2006 on Grace to You (John MacArthur's website.)

For the avoidance view:

Christianity and the Dark Side--What about Halloween? by Albert Mohler, 2007 (Some will disagree with my placement of Mohler here but the article here advocates very little, if any, participation.)
Why We Don't Celebrate Halloween (from Women by Grace)
Tract or Treat: A Christian Response to Halloween (Russ Young)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Steven James Coming to Baker Book House

I am pleased to announce that Steven James will be coming to the store on Friday, November 6th at 7:00.

My first exposure to Steven was with his fiction series The Bowers Files. I'll be the first to admit I don't read a lot of fiction but I absolutely love this series. Steven's most recent work is a book of prayers called A Heart Exposed: Talking to God with Nothing to Hide. I did a brief review of the book in an earlier post. He thanked me for the review while offering some kind and encouraging comments on the loss of my son. It meant a lot to me to hear from him because I had been reading his book throughout this time and had found it very helpful. I can't point to any one prayer in particular but it was the honesty and transparency of the prayers which is so characteristic of the prayers that reminded me I had nothing to gain by not being open and honest with God about my feelings.

If you're in the area and can make it in I'm sure it will be a fun night. Steven will speak (though we don't know his topic) and sign his books. I've already marked my calendar and hope to see you there.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Historical Jesus: Five Views - A Review 1

I linked a sneak peak at this book in an earlier post. I just started the book last night and would like to start a series of short reviews as I read along. To be honest I was half tempted to skip the introduction and jump to the first essay by Robert Price who believes that an historical Jesus never existed. I'm so glad I didn't. This is a critically important chapter especially if the topic is new to you. It will help orient you to the history, major issues and the significance of the topic.

The introduction is an excellent survey of the history and major issues of the study of the historical Jesus and is loaded with valuable bibliographic references. Theories about Jesus abound and I thought I had heard them all. I should have known better. I was stunned to read that one writer actually argues that Jesus and the apostle Paul are the same person!

Paul Rhodes Eddy and James K. Beilby highlight the four stages of scholarly research in the quest for the historical Jesus. They begin with 1) the "old quest" (from Reimarus to Schweitzer - 1778-1906); 2) the "'so-called' no quest" (from Schweitzer to Kasemann - 1906-1953); 3) The "new quest" (also called the "second quest" from 1953 - 1970s) and 4) the "third quest" (1980s - present). Each of these periods is fleshed out with the major players and rising factors that changed and shaped the prevailing views of Jesus primarily in German liberal scholarship. While this four-stage history is widely accepted there are some who question it as simply an "overly narrow, parochially German perspective." (28 n. 70) While Eddy and Beilby grant the title of "father of the quest" to Reimarus they note that, contrary to Schweitzer and many today who claim that Reimarus had no predecessors, the roots of the quest actually stem back into the seventeenth-century British and French deism. In particular they point to British deist Thomas Chubb (1679-1746) who saw Jesus as a "sort of first-century Palestinian Deist, garbed in the seamless robe of reason and natural religion." (12)

The second part of the introduction covers the "current state of the third quest." Eddy and Beilby cover a wide variety of issues and among the most important is the matter of methodology. The third quest has raised the importance of methodology to new heights. But while many can agree that methodology is important it's not long before the disagreements begin. Some suggest a return to the thought period of "no quest" arguing that the search for the historical Jesus should be abandoned since nothing good can come from it and at the end of the day it really doesn't matter since (quoting William Arnal) "the Jesus who is important to our day is not the Jesus of history, but the symbolic Jesus of contemporary discussion." (32) Others, like Luke Timothy Johnson (a contributor in the book) object to the process since "historical proposals are always contingent and open to later revision--hardly the type of thing the Christian community could base its very identity on over time." (not a quote from Johnson but their summary of his thought). (33) Though differences abound Eddy and Beilby assert that while a "consensus in Jesus studies is elusive, it is not entirely absent." (47) Chief on the consensus list is one major item--the Jewishness of Jesus. "One of the most scathing critiques that a contemporary scholar can receive today is that he has ignored or even underappreciated the Jewishness of Jesus." (49) But, again, the harmony of opinions quickly stops. What that "Jewishness" looked like is the spark of a whole new debate. They point again to Arnal who says the entire discussion is a "'red herring,' since within a radically diverse Judaism, Jesus could turn out to be just about anything and still potentially qualify as 'Jewish.'" (49) Many other issues are raised which I won't cover here. The issues are covered in brief format yet very informative.

What has the third quest produced? Here's a sample of the reconstructions the third quest has produced of Jesus: "an eschatological prophet, a Galilean holy man, an occultic magician, an innovative rabbi, a trance-inducing psychotherapist, a Jewish sage, a political revolutionary, an Essene conspirator, an itinerant exorcist, an historicized myth, a protoliberation theologian, a peasant artisan, a Torah-observant Pharisee, a Cynic-like philosopher, a self-conscious eschatological agent, a socioeconomic reformer, a paradoxical Messianic claimant and, finally, as one who saw himself as, in some sense, the very embodiment of Yahweh-God." (53)

We could ask, "Will the real Jesus please stand up?" In the remainder of the book we'll hear the case of five different scholars attempting to answer that question. Let the debate begin!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Gospel According to Liberalism

Here's something to ponder from Michael Horton's newest book The Gospel-Driven Live.

"In the 1950s, Yale's H. Richard Niebuhr described the so-called 'gospel' of Protestant liberalism poignantly: 'A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.' Each clause is telling. First, more like Mr. Rogers than the judge of all the earth, the sentimental deity of many Americans is incapable of wrath. Since he exists for us and our happiness, this heavenly friend may be disappointed and sad when we hurt ourselves, but he never sees sin as an offence primarily against himself and his perfect justice. Second, we may make mistakes--pretty bad ones, from time to time--but it would be wrong to call ourselves sinners, much less to imagine that we are captive to sin, helpless to do anything to will or work our way out of the mess. So, third, God brings us basically good people into a kingdom without judgment, since there is no law that could condemn and no gospel that could justify. And finally, for this sort of religious therapy you don't need a vicarious, atoning sacrifice if you are basically a nice person; what you need is a good example." (38, emphasis his)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In Store Now - The Waterproof Bible

Could your Bible survive a week underwater? This Bible can--and did!

That's right, we put the Waterproof Bible to the test by placing it underwater for five days. It took about a day and a half to dry out. Once it was dry, it was completely back to its original condition. During the week people enjoyed pulling it out of the water to see how it was doing. While the pages stuck together quite a bit there were no wrinkled pages and no bleeding ink. A favorite activity during the week was to pull the Bible up and squeeze it, watching the water come pouring out. More than one person was skeptical that it would really return to its original condition. But it did.

What's the secret? The Waterproof Bible is printed on 100% plastic! So what does a plastic page feel like? It isn't stiff like you might think. They are actually just as pliable as normal paper. You can write on it with a ball point pen and you can even use a dry highlighter to mark your favorite passages. The binding is also sewn and is glued with a waterproof glue. Not only is it waterproof but it is also tear-resistant. It is heavier than your average Bible (especially the full Bible). The complete Bible would be perfect for a boat. The New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs is ideal for campers and hunters. It is available in KJV and NIV and comes in a variety of covers (Some individual books of the Bible are available in NAS. See the website for details.)

The same Bible is also published as The Outdoor Bible. The New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs sells for $24.95 and the complete Bible sells for $39.95.

We've got another one on display underwater. The next time you're in the store stop by and take a look for yourself.

Monday, October 12, 2009

William Lane Craig at Saddleback and Watermark Community

Apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig recently appeared at both Saddleback Church (home church of Rick Warren) and Watermark Community Church at Dallas, Texas. At Saddleback Craig spoke on "How Did the Universe Begin?" and at Watermark he spoke on "Reasons to Believe We Have a Reasonable Faith." The latter of the two was in an interview format and covered a lot of material in an engaging yet very understandable fashion. The Saddleback lecture was limited to the one question but was also very accessible.

I have followed Craig for years and he is my favorite Christian apologist. You can access both of these appearances and much more at Craig's website Of the two I enjoyed the Watermark discussion most because of the diversity of topics covered. Though brief, he touches on the various arguments for the existence of God and the problem of evil. It is especially good because Craig worked hard in both venues to make the material as easy to understand as possible. The Saddleback presentation has about 20 minutes of singing and an offering prior to Craig speaking so hang on till all of that is over.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Coming Soon from Concordia Publishing House - The Lutheran Study Bible

It's due to release Reformation Day 2009 (that's Oct 31st for those who don't know). The Lutheran Study Bible is an exciting new study Bible that will provide notes and helps from a Lutheran viewpoint. Here's what you can expect:

26,500-plus uniquely Lutheran study notes.
Over 2,000 application notes and prayers.
Over 90,000 center column cross-references.
Over 1,000 cross-references to 120 full- or half-page maps, charts, and diagrams.
220-plus articles and introductions for books and topics.
Insights of Early Church and Reformation Fathers.
Luther's Small Catechism
Order of Daily Prayer.
A Reading Plan/Lectionaries.

All of this is bound on high-quality Bible paper, smyth sewn and featuring the ESV text.

There have been a couple of study Bibles in the past from a Lutheran perspective but this one is not a duplicate of any of those predecessors. The project began in 2003 with over 400 laypeople and church workers assigned reading portions of the Bible and submitting questions about their reading. Almost 1,500 questions were submitted and from those came the notes which make up much of this new study Bible. The final notes were prepared by more than 200 professors, pastors, commissioned ministers, and laymen.

Check out the website to see much more on this new study Bible. You can find it at

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Understanding English Bible Translation - A Review

Leland Ryken has been the most prolific writer in defense of an "essentially literal" philosophy of English Bible translation. Understanding English Bible Translation is his most recent contribution. In a previous post I listed his three previous books on the subject. This book is a "shorter, more streamlined book" than his previous book called The Word of God in English. (14)

Ryken is a lively writer and his passion for the subject is engaging. Out of the gate let me just say if you are looking for a response to Mark Strauss' criticism of the ESV you won't find it here. Strauss does get an occasional jab (as when Ryken says Strauss is being "frivolous and irresponsible" in alleging that "essentially literal translators 'forget that [the process involves] translation rather than transcription.'" (27) Ryken is referring to the work co-authored by Strauss and Gordon Fee entitled How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth. There is virtually no reference to the paper read by Strauss at the ETS meeting where he argued that the ESV should not become the standard English version. Though Strauss' paper covered a lot of territory I think at least an appendix would have been appropriate to respond to answer some of the most fundamental problems as William Mounce has begun to do with his "Mondays with Mounce" on Koinonia.

In an earlier review of The Word of God in English Craig Blomberg rightly observed that Ryken lumped too many "versions" together under the rubric "dynamic equivalent." Blomberg notes "it is also a bit unfair to criticize versions at the freest end of the spectrum, most notably the old Living Bible Paraphrased (LBP) and Eugene Peterson's more recent "The Message." Neither of these versions even claims to be dynamically equivalent." On this score Blomberg is right but Ryken continues to classify The Message as "dynamic equivalent" (See the list on p. 165 where The Message is identified as "dynamic equivalent" as well as the chart on p. 106.) Ryken does refer to The Living Letters consistently as a paraphrase which was merely the beginnings of The Living Bible (i.e., 72, 80-81)

With these comments aside let me say Ryken does an admirable job of defending his topic. He clarifies a number of misconceptions especially some surrounding William Tyndale. Tyndale is often employed to show that a translation should use "plain" language. Ryken stresses caution here. He says, "The adjective plain can be 'clear,' or it can mean 'common; colloquial.' It is true that Tyndale's translation includes a few famous colloquialisms . . . But the English of Tyndale's New Testament is predominantly a dignified plain style. It is as informal or formal as the original requires." (39) Tyndale's comment about a boy driving a plough will know more Scripture than his antagonizers should be understood not as a "comment on Tyndale's English style; it is instead a comment on Tyndale's desire to see the English Bible permeate all of English society." (41) Ryken further notes that Tyndale refused to "capitulate to the linguistic and theological abilities of the least educated segments of his society." (42)

Ryken objects to the mantra of dynamic equivalent translators that the Bible should be translated "in such a way that it reads 'as we would say it.'" Or, in other words we should "reject renditions about which it can be said that 'no one speaking English in the real world would use an expression like [that].'" (81) Ryken asserts that since the Bible is an ancient book it should appropriately reflect that. To turn the Bible into a modern book is "to cut against the grain and create a false impression for readers." (81) It might seem harmless enough to change something like "tents of wickedness" into "homes of the wicked" but Ryken argues the "cumulative effect is drastic." (82)

Ryken also takes issue with the assumption that "a grade-schooler should serve as the norm for reading ability and comprehension." (94) He charges, "The dynamic equivalent movement is a massive experiment in capitulation to low levels of reading ability and comprehension." (94) Essentially literal translations educate modern readers even as Tyndale did when he "added words like intercession and atonement to the English language in an attempt to transmit the content of the Bible. (94) [NOTE: In this discussion Ryken cites the preface of the NLT as equating "the average reader" with "a junior high student." While this was true in earlier editions of the NLT this wording has been changed in current editions.]

There is much I enjoyed in this book even though Ryken's tone was, at times, harsher than it needed to be. He does paint with a broad brush and some of those generalizations open him up to criticisms that he would otherwise not be subject to. He does recognize and give credit to dynamic equivalent translations as rendering the Bible as "understandable to modern readers." (29) But this goal of readability, he says, "has been elevated to an importance it should never be accorded." (29) I agree with Ryken that the Bible "should not sound like a teenager's account of last evening's ballgame." (108) Rather it should contain a certain "formality, dignity, an appropriate strand of archaism and exaltation." (108) Maybe it's just my age speaking but I like to think that part of what counts in translating God's Word is crafting language in ways which exalt and honor the Scripture above the common and ordinary expressions I use everyday. I've heard it said countless times that the language of the New Testament was just common street language. A helpful article which counters this allegation is by Michael Marlowe, "Was the Bible Written in 'Street Language."

If you want a good introduction to the issue of Bible translation from the perspective of literal translation it is hard to do better than Ryken.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ben Witherington Reviews The Lost Symbol

It doesn't appear that Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol is creating as much of a stir as The DaVinci Code did. That doesn't mean it is any better in treating history or theology. Ben Witherington has provided an excellent review. Why does a scholar of Witherington's caliber take the time to review a book like this? Listen carefully to what he says:

"You may well ask--- why do I get so upset with Brown's novels and their 'novel' misrepresentations of the NT and Jesus? The answer is simple.

We live in a Jesus haunted culture that is both Biblically iliiterate [sic] and at the same time is an entertainment culture. In this sort of environment which is increasingly less Christian, anything can pass for truth or knowledge about Jesus or the Bible.

When I did my book tour for the Gospel Code, one of the often recurring themes during the Q+A sessions was the question---- Do you mean to tell me Dan Brown is not giving us the facts about the Gospel, Gnostics, etc.? I thought of writing up a chronicle of some of the naive reactions and questions I got and calling it 'Gullible's Travels'. The reason and the need for a thorough critique of a novel like The Lost Symbol is because it is offering up a Koolaide that, while quite palletable today, is by no means genuine communion wine from the Gospels." (emphasis his)

He's right and I am glad he took the time to write the review.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

In Store Now - Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary

For those of you follow the Koinonia blog you will already be familiar with this commentary. We received our first copies in the store this week and I couldn't be more excited. Jesse from Koinonia says that the ZIBBCOT (the affectionate abbreviation) includes "over 2,000 full-color photographs, drawings, maps, diagrams, and charts; and over 12,000 endnotes directing readers to the most important scholarship." As an added bonus during the month of October you can browse the entire book of Genesis compliments of Koinonia. The commentary is written by an international team of 30 specialists in background studies with John H. Walton as the general editor.

This should be on every pastor's shelf or at least in the church library. You can buy them individually ($49.99 each) or as a set ($249.95) so start saving now or put it on your Christmas list (you really don't need another TV). Handsomely bound on glossy paper and smyth sewn for extra durability. The time and care that has been put in to this is evident at every level.

Spend some time this month in Genesis and see if you don't agree that the scholarship is exemplary and this set is worth every penny. You won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Is Rob Bell an Evangelical?

Kevin DeYoung has written a serious critique of Rob Bell's claim to be an evangelical based on an interview he recently did with the Boston Globe. Of course DeYoung didn't fire the first shot. See the post from just after sunrise and this one from the Gospel Coalition. Of the three posts DeYoung's is the most thoughtful and restrained.

I hesitate to enter the fray but I did want to offer a couple of thoughts. It is certainly true that the term evangelical has become a term almost devoid of any meaning. One problem is that so many "evangelicals" have abandoned certain historic Christian doctrines but still retained the label so that eventually one can claim to be an evangelical and believe whatever one desires. The term has lost all its historic distinctives. To be a member of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) you have to subscribe to inerrancy and the Trinity. (By the way Kevin Vanhoozer does an excellent job of demonstrating not only the compatibility of these two truths but "their intrinsic necessity" (26) in a two-part essay entitled "Theological Reflections on the Claim that God Speaks" found in Trinitarian Theology for the Church pp. 25-78.) I'm not saying the ETS speaks for all evangelicals but they certainly have historic roots in the classic understanding of what it means to be evangelical. If acceptance of these two doctrines became the sine qua non of what defines an evangelical many today who fly under the name would gladly put on a parachute and jump off the plane.

Bell says he can embrace the term evangelical "if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for change in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness, a hopeful outlook." The problem is this definition could equally apply to a Catholic, a Buddhist or even an atheist. Bell's definition would certainly describe Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King Jr. but I doubt anyone would call them evangelicals. How would it look if I said I could embrace the term Roman Catholic if . . . and I gave Bell's definition? Would Roman Catholics accept me as a Roman Catholic? Would I be allowed to receive communion? No. Why not? Because Roman Catholicism is defined not only by its actions but by a certain body of beliefs. I can't define Roman Catholicism as I would like to see it. Bell needs to recognize that evangelicalism comes with a certain body of beliefs. I'll grant that the defining elements of evangelicalism are hotly contested but I'm not ready to give up on it just yet.

Is Bell an evangelical? No, not in a historic sense. I would be more comfortable with him saying he is not an evangelical but is happy to work together with evangelicals for change in the world, caring for the environment and extending to the poor generosity and kindness. Many evangelicals certainly share Bell's passion for these causes. But if that is all that defines an evangelical then it will have lost its identity entirely and may as well be abandoned. And that I'm not prepared to do.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

In Store Now - Introducing the New Testament by Mark Allan Powell

Wow! What an amazing work this is. Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey is an impressive textbook from author Mark Allan Powell.

The first thing to notice is the sheer beauty of this book. It is filled with over 500 illustrations of artwork and photos from different countries and various time periods. How many college/seminary textbooks could you leave on a coffee table and have it easily capture the attention of your company? You can with this one. And while they are admiring the pictures they might want to read the sidebar on "What did Paul look like?" (238) or see the fascinating chart on "Male/Female Parallels in the Gospel of Luke." (158) But as Powell explains in the preface the art is not simply to make the book look pretty. "More importantly," he says, "I hope the art will convey something of the influence of these writings--the importance of the New Testament to history and to culture." (11)

But I don't want to give you the wrong impression--this is a first-rate textbook. It covers the standard material found in an introductory text: overview, historical background, distinctives and major themes. A strong feature of the book is that the discussions are descriptive. That is to say Powell lays out a spectrum of opinions rather than arguing for one particular viewpoint. This allows a teacher the flexibility to guide the class in which ever direction they prefer. For example, there is a chart on "Chronology for Paul's Letters" which provides the "Earliest Suggested Date" on the left and the "Latest Suggested Date" on the right. (247)

But now I come to my favorite feature. Throughout the book there are "hyperlinks" which can be found on the website This website is full (and I mean full) of bonus materials both for the student and professor. For the student there are flash cards, bonus articles on various subjects and "self quizzes." I took the quiz for chapter one and only missed two. Not too shabby for not having read the chapter! For the professor they have power point outlines and a compete test bank. (This material is provided from the publisher after you provide the necessary information.) There is some overlapping content from the book but there is a lot that is unique. I enjoyed going through some of the flash cards which will make an excellent study aid.

Some will be disappointed that the discussions are fairly brief. But after listening to the author interview on the website I understand he wanted to maximize time for a teacher to supplement and engage the student in a variety of ways. He says he wanted to present the data and then "get out of the way." In some respects I like this. I've had too many classes where I read the assignment for the day and then after the class was over realized the teacher "taught" me what I just read! I could have just bought the book and taken another class. This book does not "steal the teacher's thunder" as Powell puts it. I would note that Powell may not always be neutral on some issues. In skimming the book I noticed where he says "This idea that Paul was the true founder of Christianity is an exaggeration." (231) He then proceeds to lay out a couple of arguments in support of the position. I completely agree but clearly Powell is stealing at least a little thunder. On the other hand he offers a couple of reasons why "most scholars" believe in a late date for the Gospel of Mark (around 70 A. D.) but does mention that a "few scholars" argue for an earlier date (before 60) and he notes that this date "is not impossible." (130) He does not, however, offer any evidence on behalf of the early date.

This is only my first impression. I would like to offer a more extensive review later. For now I can see the real benefit in a work like this.

Mark Allen Powell is the Robert and Phyllis Leatherman Professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. The book is hardcover with 560 pages and sells for $44.99. Professors interested in obtaining an exam copy may go here.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Greg Clark Reviews The Lost Symbol

I have not read Dan Brown's latest novel but I can tell you that in every airport I was in for the past two weeks it was prominently featured. A publisher's dream--it sold one million copies on its first day (hardcover and e-book versions). I read the Da Vinci Code and in spite of its terrible theology and history thought it was a fun read. I'm not sure I will read The Lost Symbol. For those who are interested I found this review by Greg Clark on The Centre for Public Christianity.

Greg Clarke on The Lost Symbol from CPX on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sneak Preview of a Multi-Views Book on the Historical Jesus

I announced this forthcoming title previously but Dan Reid at Addenda & Errata has given us a "redacted conversation" based on the book. I really am looking forward to this volume. On the one hand it seems there can't be much new to offer on this topic. But the dialogue between these scholars should prove interesting and that a variation in views is still very much alive.

Here's what Dan said in an earlier post: "The book has contributions from a wide range of viewpoints, starting off with Robert Price (who maintains that the probability of Jesus’ existence has reached the “vanishing point,”) and concluding with Darrell Bock, who ably argues that while critical method yields only a “gist” of Jesus, it nonetheless takes us in the direction of the Gospel portraits themselves. In between we find discussions from noted New Testament scholars Dominic Crossan, Luke Johnson and James Dunn. With that lineup, you would expect some interesting interaction. And you won’t be disappointed."

Look for it this October.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Returning to Work on Monday

After a very difficult two weeks I will be back to work this coming Monday. I have a lot of catching up to do. Thanks to so many of you who were able to attend the visitation or funeral (or both). I've received more hugs in the last two days than I have in the last two years and I enjoyed every one of them. On behalf of my entire family I want to say thank you to all of you who held us up in prayer. For the first time in my life I can say "I felt your prayers" and truly know what that means. And I know many of you have told me that you will continue to pray--thank you. I've heard the first year is the hardest (all the missed holidays and birthdays). I have no doubt it will be. I trust that God will see us through the year ahead as he has the past two weeks. We have three great kids (OK, Adam's a bit old for "kid" but you know what I mean)who continue to keep us busy and two beautiful grand kids who we can't wait to spoil and tell them endless stories about their dad.

Thursday, October 1, 2009