Monday, November 30, 2009

The Historical Jesus: Five Views - A Review 8 - Responses to Dunn

One of Dunn's major points is that scholarship needs to take the oral tradition more seriously than it does. In light of that many of the responses responded to this very issue. Both Price and Crossan complain that the oral tradition (how ever long or short it may be) was sufficient time to allow for embellishments to develop. Price cites von Harnack's "famous" measurement of the "distance between the parable of the prodigal son and the Pauline preaching of the atonement." (229) He then asks, "If Jesus had known the conditions of salvation would have altered so drastically in a matter of a few weeks, would he have wasted his breath on a parable teaching people that simple repentance was sufficient for salvation? Hardly." Crossan says that his research shows that "the Jesus of history who proclaimed love of enemies based on the character of God (now in the Q Gospel at Matthew 4:43-45 // Luke 6:27-36) to be already perverted by the Christ of faith who will return as a transcendental killer in the book of Revelation." (234, emphasis his) He further chides Dunn for not taking into consideration "either eschatalogical Judaism or Roman imperialism in the Jewish homeland or Jesus' nonviolent resistance from the former against the latter" as "equally inadequate." (237, emphasis his) Crossan also quickly responds to Dunn's claim that we don't know how Jesus impacted others with this: "We have very clear evidence of his impact on Pilate. It is called crucifixion." (237)

Luke Timothy Johnson says that Dunn's "complaint that such oral tradition has been ignored by scholars is off base." (241) Dunn is too quick to dismiss the fruit of form criticism since it does not provide the results he's looking for: namely, the "traces of pre-Easter oral tradition deriving from Jesus' first followers." (241) Johnson says the basic criticism of all those who are after the "oral tradition" is the same: "whatever oral processes may have preceded the composition of the Gospels, only the written texts are now available to us." (242) Furthermore, all the variations of similarity or dissimilarity in the Gospels can be better explained "by the process of literary transmission and redaction than through variations in oral performance." (242) Finally, Johnson says "searching for a Jewish Jesus is not a historiographical principle or criterion but a predetermined goal" and fails to tackle the "truly difficult question" of "what constitutes 'Jewish' in first century Palestine." (243) Bock found much to agree with with minor caveats and nuances to Dunn's overall essay.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Coming Soon from IVP Academic - The Great Theologians

Long before I entered seminary I would look at the course selections offered and was always puzzled why there would be classes on different persons. "Why is there a class on Calvin or Karl Barth?" I asked myself. "Isn't studying the Bible all I really need?" Then one day I asked myself another question. "If God was gracious enough to gift the church with such great teachers and preachers what sense does it make to ignore them? Isn't the point of having teachers to learn from them?" That's when the light bulb came on.

So I'm excited to tell you about The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide by Gerald R. McDermott. Here's the catalog description:

"After preaching a sermon that referenced Saint Augustine and Martin Luther, Gerald R. McDermott faced a familiar question:

Is there any way I can get a handy introduction to these theologians you and the other pastors talk about all the time? I wish I could go to seminary, but that’s impossible. And I am afraid I won’t understand a big textbook. All I want is a little handbook to give me the basics of each of
these great theologians.

Like this church member, many Christians wish to learn the basics of the great theologians, yet don’t have the time or opportunity to take formal classes or read dozens of sizable and arguably intimidating books. Finally, here is a concise and accessible introduction to some of the church’s greatest theologians that any Christian can enjoy. Challenging but not overwhelming. Provocative but not frustrating. And not too long.

The table of contents offers a quick look at who the theologians are:

 Origen: Oft-Reviled but “The Greatest Teacher After the Apostles”
 Athanasius: The Black Monk Who Saved the Faith
 Augustine: The Most Influential Theologian Ever
 Thomas Aquinas: The Teacher of the Catholic Church
 Martin Luther: The Monk Who Rose Up Against Heaven and Earth
 John Calvin: Greatest Theologian of the Reformed Tradition
 Jonathan Edwards: America’s Theologian
 Friedrich Schleiermacher: Father of Liberal Theology
 John Henry Newman: Anglican Theologian Who Swam the Tiber
 Karl Barth: Most Influential Twentieth-Century Theologian
 Hans Urs von Balthasar: Stellar Catholic Theologian of the Twentieth Century

From Origen to Barth, McDermott offers a brief introduction to eleven of the church’s most
influential minds. In the process he offers a glimpse into two thousand years of church history and thought. For each figure, McDermott provides a biographical sketch and a short selection of the theologian’s work. He also explains the themes distinct to each thinker and how the theologian has impacted the church. He suggests lessons to be learned, offers questions for discussion and provides a list of resources should the reader desire to learn more. All this in language that is accessible to any thoughtful Christian."

You can find an interview with McDermott here. I liked his answer to these last two questions:

Why did you choose to write about these eleven theologians?

They are among the most influential of all. Not all have been appreciated, but all have had enormous influence on Christian thinking in the last two thousand years.

Have each of these theologians influenced the church in a positive way?

No. Schleiermacher, for instance, was the father of Protestant liberalism. His portrait of God
and Jesus was fundamentally distorted, and has done great damage to the church. But
precisely because he has been so influential, it is important for Christians to understand
him. Orthodox Christians might even find that their own thinking has been unwittingly
shaped, in part, by the trends he introduced.

Look for it next March. It will be paperback with 210 pages and sell for $20.00.

1st Sunday of Advent - Reflections

Today marks the beginning of my observing the Church calendar. I admit it is hard to get into the spirit of Advent when Christmas looms so large everywhere I turn. This is especially true working in retail. Christmas music is on the radio and playing in the store. At least I can turn off the radio or find another station. I have little control about what plays in the store.

I focused my thoughts today on the coming of our Lord. I read through the lectionary readings from both the Catholic church and from the Revised Common Lectionary (they are virtually identical with just a few minor differences). I also did the readings from the Holy Bible Mosaic. Here's how the three compared:


Jer. 33:14-16
Ps. 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
I Thess. 3:12 – 4:2
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

Revised Common Lectionary:

Jer. 33: 14-16
Ps. 25:1-10
I Thess. 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Holy Bible Mosaic:

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 25
I Cor. 1:4-9
Matt. 24:32-51
(Suggested: Isaiah 11:1-16; 35:1-10)

Because we are in year C the Gospel readings come from the Gospel of Luke. The Holy Bible Mosaic provides a reading from Matthew. Today I'll leave you with a thought from Pope John Paul II as found in the Holy Bible Mosaic and a quote from Edward Hays from his book A Pilgrim's Almanac.

". . . we must understand that our whole life should be an 'advent,' in vigilant expectation of Christ's final coming. To prepare our hearts to welcome the Lord, who, as we say in the Creed, will come one day to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize his presence in the events of our daily life. Advent is then a period of intense training that directs us decisively to the One who has already come, who will come, and who continuously comes." (The Holy Bible Mosaic page 16)

"Advent, like its cousin Lent, is a season for prayer and reformation of our hearts. Since it comes at winter time, fire is a fitting sign to help us celebrate Advent…If Christ is to come more fully into our lives this Christmas, if God is to become really incarnate for us, then fire will have to be present in our prayer. Our worship and devotion will have to stoke the kind of fire in our souls that can truly change our hearts. Ours is a great responsibility not to waste this Advent time." (A Pilgrim's Almanac page 187. The quote is as found here.)

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Earliest Christian Hymnbook & The Odes Project

I've just ordered this book for the store and I can't wait to see it. It's called The Earliest Christian Hymnbook translated by James H. Charlesworth. As the title suggests this is a collection of some of the earliest Christian hymns (c. A. D. 100). Many of these hymns have been set to contemporary music and can be found on the website known as The Odes Project. On the website you can learn more about these fascinating hymns and listen to a sample of the songs which are available for purchase on two CDs (click on the "store" tab and then "listen and buy"). The following is taken from the website:

"The Odes of Solomon are hymns of praise and devotion that we inherit from an early poet. The author, the Odist, was a Jew, conceivably an Essene because he intermittently evidences that he knew the Thanksgiving Hymns (the so-called hymnbook of the Qumran Community). The Odist eventually believed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah and imagined: "The dove fluttered over the head of our Lord Messiah, /Because he was her head" (Ode 24:1).

The collection is identified as the Odes of Solomon, not because they were written by King Solomon in the tenth century B.C., but because they were rightly considered to be in the tradition of Solomon, who was known in the Bible as "the Beloved." The Odist uses this term for himself and all like him; it is a concept that helps define the Odes. While Solomon lived in the tenth century B.C., the Odist lived sometime near A.D. 100. He composed the Odes in a form of early Aramaic and Syriac which is a language spoken in the early Christian centuries and was a form of the language spoken by Jesus."

"In the centuries that followed its composition, the Odes were repeatedly lost and found again. As late as 1909, they languished in obscurity until being rediscovered in the dusty study of a Quaker theologian. Since that time they have been the object of intense interest and scrutiny among scholars and eventually recognized for what they were -- masterworks of Christian devotion. But not until The Odes Project has this transcendent poetry of praise been adorned with musical settings that both honors and updates its ancient heritage."

You can also find the words of all the Odes (both the original and those adapted for contemporary singing). Here are the original words to Ode 15:

1. As the sun is the joy of them who seek its daybreak, so is my joy the Lord;
2. Because He is my Sun, and His rays have lifted me up; and His light has dismissed
all darkness from my face.
3. Eyes I have obtained in Him, and have seen His holy day.
4. Ears I have acquired, and have heard His truth.
5. The thought of knowledge I have acquired, and have enjoyed delight fully through
6. I repudiated the way of error, and went towards Him and received salvation from
Him abundantly.
7. And according to His generosity He gave to me, and according to His excellent
beauty He made me.
8. I put on immortality through His name, and took off corruption by His grace.
9. Death has been destroyed before my face, and Sheol has been vanquished by my
10. And eternal life has arisen in the Lord's land, and it has been declared to His
faithful ones, and has been given without limit to all that trust in Him.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration

I was first alerted to the Manhattan Declaration by my friend Paul. Whatever else you want to say about it this much is sure: opinions are forming fast. John Stackhouse says it is a waste of time. My friend Paul and Kevin DeYoung are encouraging people to at least read it if not also sign it. Jeff at Scripture Zealot has put together a few links with varying viewpoints which I found helpful.

Stackhouse complains that the document does not indicate what anyone is supposed to do besides sign it and he says "the document seems philosophically and politically incoherent." With opinions this strong I want to take a little more time with it but won't have that luxury till after Thanksgiving.

On another note if you've not read Kevin DeYoung's post on The Gospel Old and New I would encourage you to read it. It's very good (and there's nothing to sign).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Coming Soon from Crossway - Scandalous

D. A. Carson fans (of which I am one) will be excited to see this new work from Crossway publishers called Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.

The catalog description follows:

"How are Christians to approach the central gospel teachings concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus? The Bible firmly establishes the historicity of these events and doesn't leave their meanings ambiguous or open to interpretation. Even so, there is an irony and surprising strangeness to the cross. Carson shows that this strange irony has deep implications for our lives as he examines the history and theology of Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection.

Scandalous is the latest addition to the Re:Lit series, which highlights important theological truths in accessible and applicable ways. Both amateur theologians and general readers will appreciate how Carson deftly preserves weighty theology while simultaneously noting the broader themes of Jesus' death and resurrection. Through exposition of five primary passages of Scripture, Carson helps us to more fully understand and appreciate the scandal of the cross."

Look for it in February 2010. It will be paperback with 176 pages and sell for $15.99.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mark Galli Interviews Michael Horton on the Gospel Driven Life

There's an excellent interview with Michael Horton by Mark Galli at Christianity Today. I am becoming more and more convinced that the law/gospel distinction is important (Although see the review of Horton's book Christless Christianity by John Frame here and his own discussion of the law/gospel distinction with several caveats here). Here is just the first part of the interview:

"What is at the core of the temptation to practice a Christless Christianity?

When the emphasis becomes human-centered rather than God-centered. In more conservative contexts, you hear it as exhortation: 'These are God's commandments. The culture is slipping away from us. We have to recover it, and you play a role. Is your life matching up to what God calls us to?' Of course there is a place for that, but it seems to be the dominant emphasis.

Then there is the therapeutic approach: 'You can be happier if you follow God's principles.' All of this is said with a smile, but it's still imperative. It's still about techniques and principles for you to follow in order to have your best life now.

In both cases, it's law rather than gospel. I don't even know when I walk into a church that says it's Bible-believing that I'm actually going to hear an exposition of Scripture with Christ at the center, or whether I'm going to hear about how I should 'dare to be a Daniel.' The question is not whether we have imperatives in Scripture. The question is whether the imperatives are all we are getting, because people assume we already know the gospel—and we don't.

But aren't many churches doing good preaching about how to improve your marriage, transform your life, and serve the poor?

The question is whether this is the Good News. There is nothing wrong with law, but law isn't gospel. The gospel isn't 'Follow Jesus' example' or 'Transform your life' or 'How to raise good children.' The gospel is: Jesus Christ came to save sinners—even bad parents, even lousy followers of Jesus, which we all are on our best days. All of the emphasis falls on 'What would Jesus do?' rather than 'What has Jesus done?'

Why is this such a temptation for the church?

It's our default setting. No one has to be taught to trust in themselves. No one has to be taught that what you experience inside yourself is more authoritative than what comes to you externally, even if it comes from God. Since the Fall, it has been part of our character to look within ourselves. And it is part of our inherent Pelagianism to think we can save ourselves by following the right instructions.

In such a therapeutic, pragmatic, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps society as ours, the message of God having to do all the work in saving us comes as an offensive shot at our egos. In this culture, religion is all about being good, about the horizontal, about loving God and neighbor. All of that is the fruit of the gospel. The gospel has nothing to do with what I do. The gospel is entirely a message about what someone else has done not only for me but also for the renewal of the whole creation."

During the interview Galli references an article by Lisa Miller of Newsweek called "We Are All Hindus Now." Galli says that Miller "acknowledges that, of course, most Americans aren't practicing Hindus. But she appeals to various surveys to show that most Christians, including many evangelicals, embrace more Hindu tenets than Christian ones." This is the natural result of exalting orthopraxy (right behavior) over orthodoxy (right beliefs). It cannot be emphasized enough: beliefs have consequences.

Michael Horton is the author of Christless Christianity the The Gospel Driven Life.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Women's Soccer - No Holds Barred

Coming Soon from B&H Publishing Group - Salvation and Sovereignty

If you have an interest in salvation, election and the sovereignty of God I think you might like this book. Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach promises to bring a unique exploration of an age-old issue. The most popular defender of Molinism today is probably William Lane Craig. (See here for some online articles and for a good popular treatment see his book The Only Wise God from Wipf and Stock. This was originally published by Baker.) In this volume, however, author Kenneth Keathley builds on the acronym ROSES which was first presented by Timothy George.

R = Radical Depravity
O = Overcoming Grace
S = Sovereign Election
E = Eternal Life
S = Singular Redemption

I don't know enough about ROSES to comment on its merits or how much it actually differs from the Calvinist TULIP. There are a couple of articles online for those interested in pursuing further.

Salvation and Sovereignty is due out in January 2010. It will be a paperback with 256 pages and sell for $24.99.

Kenneth Keathley is professor of Theology and dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Latest Issue of Themelios Available

The latest issue of Themelios is now available. It begins with a great editorial by D. A. Carson asking whose approval we really desire--man or God's. This issue includes several good articles and is chuck full of some excellent book reviews. A couple of the reviews I especially enjoyed were David Mathis' review of N. T. Wright's book Justification: Paul's Vision and God's Plan, Doug Moo's review of Michael Gorman's Inhabiting the Cruiform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology, and Darrell Bock's review of Bart Ehrman's Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them).

If you're not familiar with this online journal you should really check it out.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Heresy of the Jesus Seminar

I mentioned in a previous post how much I am enjoying Douglas Harink's commentary on 2 Peter. There is quite simply no way someone can read this commentary and come away not realizing the utter seriousness of the issue of heresy. Heresy is to the church what cancer is to a body. Furthermore, Harink doesn't leave the discussion to vague generalities but gives concrete examples of heresy in the church today. The quote I give today concerns the Jesus Seminar and after reading it I've got new eyes on the other book I'm currently reading (The Historical Jesus: Five Views) which has two members of the Jesus Seminar as contributors! The quote is a long one but it almost took my breath away after I read it. It's that good.

"But, with Peter, they [Luther and Calvin] believed that the life or death of the church was at stake in the question of heresy--and so it is. . . The Church will not stand, for example, by faith in the insubstantial figure often presented to us by the Jesus Seminar, which denies his divinity and lordship and his coming again. Should we not mock the irrational and fundamentalist seriousness of this group, which markets itself as the very paradigm of scientific rationality in search of the pure facts about the historical Jesus, by which they might save gullible and hapless Christians from the church and the creeds? But 'they are waterless fountains and a fog driven by the storm' (2 Peter. 2:17 DH): their supposed rigorous rationality--in a mode discredited by most contemporary philosophy--is dry and spiritually fruitless, yielding a nonapocalyptic Jesus who is theologically insubstantial and boring as hell. Should we not expose the seminar's media publicity, public acceptance, and publication royalties for what they are--the benefits that come from finding so many eager consumers in the church as well as the world, ready to pay well for its cheap and diminished Jesus who was neither rescued from the powers of unrighteousness himself nor has the power to rescue anyone? 'They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed' (2:14). Should we not mention that where such a diminished Jesus is bought and sold in churches, those very same churches also often display and promote a moral life, particularly in matters of human sexuality, that is no different from that found in the wider society? Should we not ask about the relationship between theological heresy and immorality, between the act of 'despis[ing the] authority [kryriotetos] of Jesus Christ and 'indulg[ing the] flesh in depraved lust' (2:10)? 'For with fatuous and vacuous teaching and through lust and sexual immorality [the false teachers] lure back those who are only just escaping from their life in paganism' (2:18 DH)." (171-72)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Historical Jesus: Five Views - A Review 7 - Responses to Johnson and Dunn's Essay

I got side tracked with all the new books coming in but I'm glad to get back to this review. This post will include just a short summary of the responses to the essay by Luke Timothy Johnson and a summary of the essay by James D. G. Dunn.

Responses to Luke Timothy Johnson

By now we should be aware that Price objects to Johnson’s essay at its most basic level. He doubts Johnson’s initial “facts” about Jesus and simply reasserts that “Jesus is an offshoot of an ancient version of Yahve depicted along the lines of Baal, Osiris, Dionysus or Attis.” (179) Price appreciates what Johnson says regarding the problems in historical methodology but thinks that when all is said and done what is left simply amounts to little more than “the sheer will to believe” and he doubts “if one has the right to make such a leap.” (180) Crossan thinks Johnson should not only recognize the limits of history but also the limits of theology. He asks, “Have historians caused more havoc by getting Jesus wrong than theologians have by getting Christ wrong?” (183) Dunn believes that Johnson is unnecessarily critical of source criticism. Since Johnson wants to focus on the Gospels as we have them he doesn’t see the need to probe behind them in search for “authentic sayings.” But Dunn thinks this restricts us “to a time forty and more years after Jesus’ own mission.” (190)

Remembering Jesus – The Essay by James D. G. Dunn

Dunn is a prolific scholar and his book Jesus Remembered is tour de force for anyone studying the historical Jesus. Dunn says that in the course of his research he became dissatisfied with three key methodological presuppositions. In light of that his essay proposes three “protests” along with three “proposals” as a better way to approach the study of the historical Jesus. Dunn’s first protest is against the notion that the “‘Christ of faith’ is a perversion of ‘the historical Jesus.’ . . . The assumption was that the real Jesus must have been different from the Christ of faith.” (200) But this is an unnecessary assumption. Dunn maintains in his first proposal that it is clear that Jesus made an impact on his disciples “in and through his mission.” The result of this impact can be seen in the Jesus tradition. Like it or not the primary sources of information we have on Jesus are the Gospels and “we cannot realistically expect to find a Jesus different from the Jesus of the Jesus tradition.” (206)

Dunn’s second protest is against the prevailing attitude to view the “Jesus tradition in literary terms.” The answer to this is in his second proposal—namely, to give increased attention and appreciation for the oral phase of the Jesus tradition. Dunn shows how the literacy level of those in Palestine at the time of Jesus would have been less than 10 percent. From this and other factors he says we have to “assume, therefore, that the great majority of Jesus’ first disciples would have been functionally illiterate.” (211) Dunn’s discussion of the oral phase of the tradition is partly indebted to Kenneth Bailey. Given the nature of this oral phase Dunn believes we shouldn’t look for anything like an “original version” of any particular story. (215)

Dunn’s third protest is similar to his first. He says the quest is wrong in trying to find a Jesus “who was distinctive or different from his environment.” (216) This assumption has “in part been a sad corollary to Christianity’s long and disgraceful history of anti-Semitism.” (217) Dunn’s proposal to this is that “we should look first of all for the Jewish Jesus rather than the non-Jewish Jesus.” (219) He points to the work of those like E. P. Sanders, James Charlesworth and N. T. Wright as luminaries in this effort. Instead of looking for something distinctive we should be looking for what is characteristic about Jesus. In this, he says, we have better guides in Birger Gerhardsson and David Aune rather than the “more prominent members of the Jesus Seminar.” (221)

What does this characteristic approach of Jesus produce? “A Galilean Jesus who called Israel to repentance and disciples to faith, one through whose ministry the blessings of God’s final reign were experienced, one who has heard as speaking for God and with the authority of God, and one who antagonized the priestly authorities and was crucified by the Romans.” (223) This is Jesus remembered.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In Store Now - 1 & 2 Peter by Douglas Harink

This past week we received the latest volume in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. It is on the first and second books of Peter and the contributor is Douglas Harink. I don't have as good a grasp on 2 Peter as I would like so I thought I would start my reading of this commentary with that book. It didn't take long for me to find pure gold. The following quote was just what I needed to hear to help me keep my apologetics interest in perspective.

"This letter as a whole raises the question of what will preserve the church from 'destructive heresies (2:1 DH) [DH = abbreviation for author's translation] or (in Paul's phrase) 'another gospel.' The answer to that question arises in the first verse of the letter: the church will be preserved in the truth of the gospel by the righteous act of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Thus, while theologians and preachers in the church are rightly concerned--as Peter is--to refute false teachings that distort or erode the truth of the gospel, our final confidence that the apostolic message will endure does not rest in our own power of formulation, critique, or persuasion, but in the divine power of Jesus Christ who sees to it as a matter of his own justice toward us. Theologians and other erstwhile defenders of the faith have frequently succumbed to the thought that is they who both define the truth and secure the continuity of the apostolic message. Peter reminds us that Jesus Christ himself is not only the truth, but also the power of truth through time." (134)

I'm in the middle of chapter two and Harink's writing is so good that I don't want to put it down. This is a joy to read. His discussion of theosis is superb and I think he finds the right balance in discussing the role of virtues in the Christian life by solidly grounding them in the gospel (or better said, as Peter does). His discussion of heresy is extremely insightful and full of wisdom. I'd like to share a couple of paragraphs in a later post. In the span of two chapters I've been comforted, convicted, challenged and given a glimpse of the dazzling beauty of the glorious excellence of our Savior Jesus Christ. I'm not sure about you but that makes for one good commentary!

1 & 2 Peter is hardcover with 203 pages and sells for $29.99.

Monday, November 16, 2009

2012: A Dose of Sanity

The other day I was driving to work listening to one of my favorite radio talk shows and the topic was how many people really believed the world was heading for some kind of tragic demise in 2012. Of course this was all prompted because of the new movie release 2012. At first it was all rather funny but then a couple of Christians called in and began to put the pieces together for everyone giving precise dating for the end of the world as supported by the Bible--and as it turns out their dates coincided with 2012! Other callers talked about the "facts" of the earth's poles being reversed or the alignment of planets in 2012 which will surely create some catastrophic events. Neither the Bible nor science offer any support for the scenarios played out in the movie. So, I offer here four minutes of sanity.

The Truth about 2012 from NASA Lunar Science Institute on Vimeo.

Here's another helpful link from NASA.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Is Advent Penitential?

I'm returning to a topic that I previously posted about--namely, what kind of season is advent?

I raise the question again for two reasons: 1) In my reading of The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister she specifically says "Advent is a period of preparation for Christmas but, unlike Lent, it is not a period of penance. It is a period that focuses us on joy." (66) 2) My recent discovery on how the vestments of Pope Benedict XVI for Advent sheds light on the topic.

After reading the comment by Chittister I went back to do a little more digging on the topic. She doesn't completely remove the idea of penance from Advent for she says that the second week of Advent "calls us with John the Baptist to repent." (67) But clearly she sees the dominant theme of Advent as one of joy more than penance.

Then I ran across an article which, among other comments, made reference to the Pope's wearing what is called the "Penitential Papal Formale. "Traditionally, the Sovereign Pontiff used three kinds of formalia: the precious one, used in the most solemn occasions, studded with gems; the ordinary one, shaped like a golden dove; and the penitential one, with three pinecones placed in a triangular pattern. The penitential one wasn't used since 1969, but the Holy Father has decided to restore its usage right for the first Sunday of Advent." So, if the Pope's vestment's are any indication of his thought's on the season of Advent he gives a strong indication to a time of penance.

The article from The Roman Sacristan is one of the best I've found on the subject and is well worth reading. It shows that originally the penitential idea was not that prevalent but that it developed later. He quotes from a book by Father Josef Jungmann entitled The Early Liturgy which says:

"There is yet one more item of our present Roman Advent which we must trace to the Gallican tradition: its penitential character. According to the liturgical books of the early Middle Ages the Roman Advent was not a penitential season. It was simply a period of preparation for, and a joyful expectation of, Christmas. Therefore only the Sundays had the special characteristics of Advent. It was not until after the tenth century, when the Gallic Advent had exerted its influence on the Roman Advent, that it received its present penitental character. Now, however, the Gloria [is] omitted on the Sundays in Advent, purple vestments are worn just as in Lent, and a restriction is placed on the use of flowers and the organ. However, it never became - except in passing - a period of fasting. These are the influences of the old Gallic liturgy, of the ancient quadragesima S. Martini, on the Roman liturgy; it gave to our Advent and to our preparation for Christmas its more serious character." (emphasis mine)

So where does that leave me? Who becomes the voice of authority on what Advent really means? The Orthodox Church has a 40 day period of fasting prior to Christmas but does not equate this with the Roman Catholic understanding of Advent. If the Catholic Church takes its lead from the Pope then it would seem to take on at least some sense of penance. Personally, (spoken like a true Protestant) I like the idea of joy and expectation but I see the importance of repentance as part of genuine preparation. When I see writers speak of Advent as a time of "preparation" and joy it is the "preparation" that is left undefined. What does this preparation look like? Is repentance limited to only week two or does it have a more prominent theme even amidst our joy and expectation?

As I continue to think on these things I feel very excited about starting Advent. I'm praying that God will open my eyes in new ways and prepare my heart from the coming Messiah. One thing that Chittister wrote I really like was this: "We begin now, in Advent, whether we realize it or not, to prepare for Easter--because Easter is the reason Christmas is important." (68-69)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Great Trinity Debate Challenge

Robert Bowman at Parchment and Pen has issued a challenge to debate someone who does not believe in the Trinity.

The debate will begin some time after the New Year and go for six weeks. Here's the proposed format:

Week #1: My opponent and I would set forth our understanding of the nature of God (his attributes, e.g., omnipotent or not, omnipresent or not, incorporeal or corporeal) to make sure everyone understands what, if any, differences we have on that subject.

Weeks #2 and #3: The two of us would each set forth our understanding of the identity/person of Jesus Christ.

Week #4: The two of us would each set forth our understanding of the identity, status (person or non-person), and/or nature of the Holy Spirit.

Week #5: The two of us would each set forth a case for our position with regard to the Trinity (I would be for it, my opponent against it).

Week #6: Each of us will post one closing statement, with those blog entries open for questions from anyone.

This should prove to be very interesting. I'll keep you posted as dates become fixed and an opponent is selected.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Coming Soon from Baker Books: Evidence for God

When I first started studying apologetics the big names were C. S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, John Warwick Montgomery, Gordon Clark, Carl Henry, Ronald Nash, Wilbur Smith and the great populizer was Josh McDowell. I was later introduced to Cornelius Van Till, Stuart Hackett, R. C. Sproul, Francis Schaefer, John Gerstner, Gordon Lewis and others. The landscape has changed significantly from those days. Now we have Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, Ravi Zacharias, Lee Stobel, Gary Habermas, Paul Copan, John Frame, Douglas Wilson, Peter Kreeft and many more.

Christian scholars are springing up all over the place representing a wide range of specialties and offering new and exciting evidences for the Christian faith. So when someone asks, "Do we really need another book of apologetics?" I answer with a resounding "Yes!"

Coming out next July from Baker Books is Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science edited by William Dembski and Michael R. Licona. The book is divided up into four sections as indicated by the subtitle: the question of philosophy, the question of science, the question of Jesus, and the question of the Bible. Among the contributors are Walter Bradley, William Dembski, Gary Habermas, Craig Blomberg, Ben Witherington III, Darrell Bock, Michael Licona, Daniel Wallace, Paul Maier, Richard Weikart, Robert Kaita, and Phillip E. Johnson.

I look forward to reading this and will be sure to let you know as soon as it is available. It will be a paperback with 288 pages and retail for $19.99.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

D. A. Carson on Why God Allows Evil and Suffering

How can God allow suffering and evil in the world? from A Passion for Life on Vimeo.

Carson has written one of the finest books on suffering. It is called How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil. It is one of the few books that I have read multiple times.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Store Now - Women in the World of the Earliest Christians

Three cheers for Lynn Cohick and Baker Academic for what looks to be a very promising study of Women in the World of the Earliest Christians.

The endorsements are impressive and make it hard for me to wait to read this book.

"This is an important book for all students of the New Testament, however novice or advanced. Cohick's historical sensibilities and sympathetic reading of the whole range of available evidence overturn a number of caricatures that have for decades plagued claims about women (and men) in the world of the early church. Her presentation of the life of the ordinary Roman woman from Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian sources is a model of careful exploration and nuanced reconstruction. It deserves to be read attentively and consulted often."--Joel B. Green, professor of New Testament interpretation, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Dr. Cohick offers a richly detailed and finely nuanced invitation into the lives of women in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The study profits from her integrated examination of literary, epigraphic, iconographic, and archaeological evidence. She exposes gender bias and ideology in literary evidence without discarding what reliable evidence these texts offer for the reconstruction of women's 'real life' experience. She remains attentive throughout not only to issues of gender but also to issues of status, class, and ethnicity and to the bearing these have on the levels of self-direction, involvement, and influence enjoyed by women in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. This book challenges some oft-heard generalizations about women, women's roles, and women's influence, replacing these with the more complicated and varied realities of women's experience in the ancient world."--David A. deSilva, Trustees' Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek, Ashland Theological Seminary

"Many preconceptions exist about the role of women in the Greco-Roman and Jewish worlds at the time of Jesus. Women in the World of the Earliest Christians is a wonderful tour of the real terrain, providing a solid array of general principles and specific examples. By taking us through the world of women at that time, Cohick offers a solid glimpse of first-century culture--a wonderful window into the world of the New Testament that is well worth the read."--Darrell L. Bock, research professor of New Testament studies, Dallas Theological Seminary

Cohick opens the book with the "earliest known female Latin writing sample." What is that sample? An invitation to a birthday party! I'm already intrigued. This is an indicator of what Cohick is seeking to discover--the everyday life of women in the first century whether Jewish or Christian. But her goals are broader than what is typically offered from this kind of study. She says, "Thus, this book is not a 'background' to women in the New Testament, for that implies a two-dimensional staging onto which certain literary women walk, say their lines, and exit stage right. I assume, rather, that women were dynamic participants in their environments, shaping and being shaped by it." (25) The time frame she examines is from the time of Alexander the Great's conquests (330s BC) to the turn of the first century with some consideration given to later centuries. Another goal is to "correct misconceptions about women's lives that have crept into our modern imagination" as in the "xenophobic claims that Jewish leaders of the day were misogynists (usually claimed as a foil for the portrait of Jesus as bucking Jewish culture)." (24)

This is an important study from which I suspect I will learn much and recommend highly. I know that's saying a lot from only having skimmed the book. But three considerations allow me to be so confident: 1) Lynn Cohick's previous writings that I know, 2) the endorsements from scholars whose opinion I trust and, 3) it's from Baker Academic. What else do you need?

The book is paperback with 350 pages and sells for $26.99. Put it at the top of your Christmas list!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In Store Now - The Historical Jesus of the Gospels

Just when you think a topic has been exhausted along comes a book that proves you were wrong. Of course I should know by now that there is always more to say. From Eerdmans publishing and Craig Keener comes this impressive new work on The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Here's some early praise:

Ulrich Luz
— University of Bern, Switzerland
"This is an outstanding book about Jesus. It does not pretend to present an entirely new perspective on Jesus, like so many others, and exactly for this reason it is reliable, sober, and reasonable. It is highly recommendable as an introduction for students and also for academically trained nontheologians."

Gerd Theissen
— University of Heidelberg
"Historical Jesus research has developed in the last decades from a 'postminimalism' concerning the authenticity of Jesus traditions to a new 'moderate confidence' in the historicity of the Gospels. Craig Keener's book is both a milestone and a boundary stone in this development. By contextualizing the sources of Jesus research and Jesus himself, Keener succeeds in increasing the historical plausibility of the Gospels to a degree that is exceptional among critical exegetes. Therefore this book must be read and taken seriously — both by those exegetes who are reluctant to support this 'historical-critical maximalism' in Jesus research and by those reluctant to contextualize Jesus in such a way. But both will enjoy reading what Keener has written with an open and critical mind."

James H. Charlesworth
— Princeton Theological Seminary
"Globally, and especially in the USA, keen interest is focused on seeking solid historical information about Jesus, who walked out of the hills of Nazareth and into world culture. In these pages Craig Keener throws illuminating light on the historical Jew seen behind the Gospels. Keener proves why the Evangelists' view of Jesus is preferable to most modern constructs: the Gospels, as ancient biographies, reflect eyewitness accounts of Jesus and provide the only valid sources for reconstructing the historical Jesus. Replete with endnotes, this book is exceptional for its breadth and its captivating prose. Ideal for classroom adoption."

The book is hardcover with 831 pages (393 of that is text. 438 pages of footnotes, bibliography and indexes!) The retail price is $60.00.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Legacy of The Tower of Babel: "God Abuse"

I once had a customer ask what I thought of a particular book that she was considering as a gift for her daughter. I told her that while I had some concerns about the author's view of God I liked much of what he had to say. Her response took me back, "I don't care what he thinks about God. I just want my daughter to accept Christ." With nothing else said she bought the book. Why is our concept of God important? I'll leave you with these important thoughts by John Walton from his commentary on Genesis.

"God Abuse. By nature we are all pagans caught in the Babel syndrome. When we think we can manipulate God by praying in Jesus' name to achieve selfish purposes, our paganism is showing. When we 'claim promises' as a means of making God do what we want him to do, our paganism is showing. When we come to think we are indispensable to God because of the money we donate, the talents we have, the ministries we engage in, or the worship we offer, our paganism is showing. When we treat God as a child to be cajoled or a tyrant to be appeased, the Babel syndrome is surging in our veins. We want a manageable 'God-lite.' We want to be able to harness his power for our own benefit, no strings attached. Our society has confronted child abuse and spouse abuse, but this is 'God abuse.' "

"If we desire to prevent ourselves from settling for the paganism of a watered-down version of God, we must reconnect with God's revelation of himself in the Bible. When we read the Bible daily, it is not so we can get a mystical thought for the day. Too many of us treat the Bible as if it were a newspaper horoscope, giving clues about what we should do or should not do that day. We need to reclaim the Bible as God's self-revelation. We should be reading to find out what God is like."

"Our spiritual growth is dependent on, among other things, developing an increasingly informed understanding of who God is and bringing more and more of our lives into orbit around him. These two must work together. Someone can have a sophisticated understanding of God but refuse to orbit her life toward God. God's claims are ignored and prevented from impacting attitudes, choices, and lifestyle. Another person many have a strong view but suffer from a deficient or distorted view of God. His misinformation can leave him sincere but sincerely wrong, dedicated but misguided."

"Reading God's Word is essential to becoming informed. Purposeful engagement with God is essential to maintaining God-centered orbits in our worldview. When we read the Bible each day, the main question we should be asking is, 'What does this help me to understand about God?' instead of 'What does this tell me to do today?' or 'What decision should I make about X?' The paganism in each of us drives us to be self-absorbed. God's revelation draws us to himself. We only need to yield." (383, 386-387)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Coming Soon from Baker Books: Jesus, the Only Way to God

John Piper dosen't need an introduction. But who better to write on this very timely topic? Piper is sure to bring academic rigor combined with pastoral wisdom and sound Biblical exegesis. Jesus, the Only Way to God: Must You Hear the Gospel to be Saved? is sure to spark controversy as it seeks to cut through the current fog of doubt and postmodern gibberish on the issue of salvation.

The catalog description follows:

"If the evangelical church at large was ever too confrontational in its evangelism, those days are gone. In our shrinking, pluralistic world, the belief that Jesus is the only way of salvation is increasingly called arrogant and even hateful. In the face of this criticism, many shrink back from affirming the global necessity of knowing and believing in Jesus. In Jesus, the Only Way to God, John Piper offers a timely plea for the evangelical church to consider what is at stake in surrendering the unique, universal place of Jesus in salvation."

Look for it in August. It will be a paperback with 208 pages and sell for $5.99. (No, that's not a mistake. It's only $5.99.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Rick Warren's Newest Book Delayed

Rick Warren's newest book, The Hope You Need, was originally projected to be released this November/December. It is now reported that the publication date has been delayed till the first quarter of 2010.

We featured this title in our most recent Christmas gift guide. This is just to let you know we will not be receiving them as advertised in the flyer.

When released it will be hardcover with 224 pages and retail for $24.99.

Coming Soon from Baker Academic: The Temple in the Gospel of Mark

Here's a great title for you lovers of the Gospel of Mark. The Temple in the Gospel of Mark: A Study in Its Narrative Role is written by Timothy C. Gray. Gray is president and professor of Sacred Scripture at the Augustine Institute and professor of Sacred Scripture at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado.

The catalog description follows:

"This work analyzes one of the most striking elements of Mark's story: the vital role the temple plays from Jesus's entry into Jerusalem to the moment of his death. Gray's narrative approach detects implications that redaction criticism missed. Using echoes of Old Testament prophets to present Jesus's 'way' as the eschatological return of the Lord to his temple, Mark sees Jesus's cleansing of the temple as a pointer to its imminent destruction. It has failed in its appointed mission to serve as the focus for the restoration of Israel and the ingathering of the Gentiles, and that function will now be assumed by its replacement: the community gathered around Jesus. Originally published by Mohr Siebeck, this book is now available as an affordable North American paperback edition."

The book will be released in May with 240 pages and sell for $42.99.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Steven James is Coming to Baker Book House this Friday!

I don't do much with fiction books or authors on this site for two reasons. 1) We have a separate blog devoted to fiction which is wonderfully done by my co-worker Chris. 2) I don't read a lot of fiction.

But, when it comes to Steven James I can't contain my enthusiasm. The first book I read from Steven was The Pawn. I couldn't read it fast enough. When I was done I felt like I had just come off an all-day roller coaster ride. It reminded me how much fun reading could be. Then came his second entry in the "The Bowers Files," The Rook, and he did it again. I was hooked from the first page till the end. The third in the series was released this past summer and Steven kept the adrenalin pumping with The Knight.

So I'm really excited to tell you that coming next August (which can't get here soon enough) is The Bishop. Watch for it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Conversation: Open with Mormons, Closed with Emergents

In a recent article from Christianity Today we learn that the Mormons have increased their dialogue with Evangelicals. At the forefront of these meetings is the now commonly known name of Robert Millet. According to Millet, "If we can have more civil and respectful relations with evangelicals, we can do it with anyone." Other than knowing the meetings are taking place few other details have been revealed.

On another front Mike Wittmer says he has skimmed an advance reading copy of a book from a leading Emergent. He says that something he read made it clear to him that "any chance of fruitful dialogue is now lost." Since this was an advance reading copy Wittmer declined to reveal the author or title of the book. What did he read that lead him to this conclusion?

"The author declared that we who stand under the Bible as our authority are guilty of the same type of thinking that endorsed slavery, anti-Semitism, genocide, homophobia, the Inquisition, witch-burning, and apartheid (the author instead recommends using the Bible as a common library of diverse viewpoints rather than an internally consistent authority over our lives)."

The responses to his post are very interesting especially since a couple come to the defense of the anonymous author.

The Historical Jesus: Five Views - A Review 6 - Luke Timothy Johnson Essay

Luke Timothy Johnson is Catholic scholar who has received considerable praise from conservative Protestant scholars on his biblical commentaries and other writings. He begins his essay by observing two ways of getting to know Jesus. The first is “through the practices of faith in the church, through prayer, worship, the reading of Scripture, and encounters with saints and strangers. This premise is based on the fact that Jesus is not a dead man of the past but a living Lord of the present, and that the tradition of the church, beginning in the Gospels, got Jesus right when they viewed all of his story from the perspective of his resurrection and exaltation, for that is who he now truly is.” This Jesus, Johnson argues, is “not an object of scholarly research but the subject of obedient faith.” (155) This position “rejects the adequacy of historical study for getting at Jesus as he truly is” and is the one that Johnson holds. The second way to get to know Jesus is through historical reconstruction. “The premise here is that Christian tradition got Jesus wrong from the beginning” and that therefore the Gospels “and for that matter, all the New Testament testimony concerning Jesus of Nazareth, must be corrected by critical historiography.” (156) This position views Jesus “solely as a dead man of the past rather than as an active subject in the present.”

Johnson attempts what he considers “the most responsible way of employing the Gospels as sources for” knowing the human Jesus. Johnson clears the air that he is not, contrary to what some of his critics have alleged, an opponent to historical inquiry. Rather he says Jesus must be treated just like any other historical figure of the past. The investigator must remain within the parameters of what is potentially verifiable. As for the Gospel narratives themselves Johnson says it is “impossible to harmonize them while still remaining any credibility as a historian.” (159) Johnson provides a basic outline of what a historian may confidently believe concerning Jesus. Among these are that Jesus was a Jew in the first century, his baptism by John, he chose twelve disciples, and that a movement arose around him and spread quickly within twenty-five years of his death. The historian can also be fairly confident in some of the teachings of Jesus such as his proclamation of God’s rule.

Johnson moves on to enumerate four basic limits of history. 1) Historians “construct history rather than simply find it.” (161) 2) History is limited to knowing only a portion of the past. We simply can’t know everything that took place. 3) History is limited by “its total dependence on sources.” (162) 4) Finally, history can only describe. It can never prescribe the future. With these limitations in place Johnson feels that an event like the resurrection is not “historically verifiable.” (164) When we come to the Gospels as sources of information we find them to be far too sparse and biased. Furthermore, they “disagree on the most basic points.” (165) Based on this the scholar can only assert “the bare bones of an event.” (166) For Johnson then typical historical Jesus research is not historical research at all but rather “a theological agenda wearing the external garb of history.” (167)

Johnson suggests that the Gospels be read literarily rather than historically. We shouldn’t ask “did Jesus say or do this” but rather we should ask “‘what does attributing this saying or that deed’ do to shape the meaning of the character of Jesus within the narrative.” (168) Johnson weaves his way through the Gospels to show the similarities of their portrayal of Jesus and the disciples. In Mark the disciples are “mentally incompetent and morally deficient.” (169) In Matthew they are “intelligent” and in Luke they are “prophets-in-training.” Each of these depictions matches a corresponding picture of Jesus. Each Gospel unfolds a “literary character” of Jesus “whom the reader engages in each narrative.” In spite of the fact that the Gospel witnesses disagree on so many facts about Jesus Johnson believes they still have a remarkable witness to the character of Jesus. We see Jesus as having an obedient faith in God with a “self-disposing love toward other people.” (174)

This approach to Jesus is one which is “accessible to all who can read narratives intelligently” and yields an understanding of Jesus as richer than typical historical Jesus publications. It is the Jesus of the Gospels rather than the “historical Jesus” that “galvanized Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa.” (177)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

Thanks to my rep at Thomas Nelson (Damon) for providing me with a copy of Joan Chittister's new book The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life. Joan is a Benedictine nun, author of 40 books and founder of
Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality located in Erie, Pennsylvania. I wanted to read this book as part of my preparation for the coming Liturgical year.

Joan is Catholic and this book is from a Catholic perspective. She explains that "however the Catholic tradition may reveal itself here, it is not this specific template that is important to this book. It is the liturgical poles of the Christian life--Christmas and Easter--that are common to us all that is the real content of the work." (xv-xvi) One of my goals is to learn from mulitple traditions even though I will eventually decide on one "template" as a primary to follow. From the early chapters of this book I found more inspiration than education.

I'll leave you with one quote to ponder for this week:

"The historical development of the liturgical year has been a slow one, of course, tempered by time, dependent on circumstances, variable in small dimensions from age to age but always clear on one point: the purpose of the liturgical year is to bring to life in us and around us, little by little, one layer of insight after another until we grow to full stature in the spiritual life. Intent on living a spiritual life that matters rather than a spiritual fad that fascinates or a spiritual program that anesthetizes the soul to everything but the self, we find out in the liturgy what makes life matter by following Jesus through every element of it." (21)