Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bible Reading Plans

Justin Taylor has some helpful links to various Bible reading plans.  I don't plan on reading through the Bible next year but I have done so in the past.  The key to success for me was, oddly enough, not to stick to the plan.  Once you fall behind it becomes a chore more than a pleasure.  So what I would did was I read as long as I was comfortable.  I inevitably would end up a couple of weeks ahead of the plan.  This allowed me some breathing room for when I might miss a day or two (or three or four).  Some plans have those "free" days built in but it is usually not more than a few of days.  This also allowed me the freedom to stop and do more detailed study on a passage if I wanted.  This happened on several occassions and I was glad to have the time to "stop and smell the roses."  Finally, I never cared for the little pamphlets or cards with the passages listed.  I would always lose it or forget to check something off.  I prefered the One Year Bible. (I did the NLT three years in a row a loved it.)  Here are the links to Taylor's blog:

Bible Reading Plans
Six Ways to Access the ESV Bible Reading Plans
ESV Reading Plans as Podcasts
Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers

Jeff at Scripture Zealot also provides a link to 20+ reading plans.  Jeff notes that most of these are for hand held type devices. 

Occasionally, I get a request for a "Two Year Bible."  Yes, they did make one but it is now out of print.  You can find a copy on Amazon here

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In Store Now - Martin Luther's Understanding of God's Two Kingdoms

One of the finest series produced by Baker Academic is the Texts & Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought.  The latest entry to that series is this work by William J. Wright, Martin Luther's Understanding of God's Two Kingdoms.  The catalog description follows:

"The concept of God's two kingdoms was foundational to Luther and subsequent Lutheran theology. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, that concept has been understood primarily in political terms. The most striking example is the Nazi corruption of the concept into a dualism that separated one's activities in the realms of church and state. But is a political reading of the two kingdoms a perversion of Luther's teaching?

Leading Reformation scholar William Wright contends that those who read Luther politically and see in Luther a compartmentalized approach to the Christian life are misreading the Reformer. For Luther, both kingdoms were under the laws and rule of God. Wright reassesses the original breadth of Luther's theology of the two kingdoms and the cultural contexts from which it emerged, showing the influence early Renaissance humanism had on Luther. He argues that Luther's two-kingdom worldview was not a justification for living irresponsibly or carelessly on planet earth. The book includes a variety of Luther's writings that reveal what the Reformer did and did not intend by the concept. These writings show how the two kingdoms converge in all areas of life: family, church, and society."

Some time ago Kevin DeYoung did a post on Two Kingdom theology which proved to be quite interesting.  This book will certainly provide a helpful perspective to that dialogue.  William J. Wright is professor of history and head of the history department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.   The book is a paperback with 208 pages and sells for $29.99. 

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Historical Jesus of the Gospels by Craig S. Keener

I honestly thought that after reading The Historical Jesus: Five Views I wouldn’t want to read anything on the topic for some time. One of my Christmas presents, however, was Craig Keener’s new book The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. I started reading it just to get a feel for what Keener was going to present and was quickly captivated. In part because Keener is such a good writer. I finished section 1 which is titled “Disparate Views about Jesus.” In this section he covers a brief history of historical Jesus studies. He covers in particular the views of John Dominic Crossan and Burton Mack which hold that Jesus was a cynic. The evidence for this view is found woefully lacking. The lens narrows as Keener considers those among what’s called the “Third Quest.” Among these are Marcus Borg (Keener admits he could have easily grouped Borg with Crossan and Mack but because of his Jewish focus he kept him in the latter group.), Geza Vermes and E. P. Sanders. He finds himself most in agreement with Sanders but does not hesitate to correct some weaknesses. The last part of the section addresses the thorny but very popular topic today of the “Other Gospels.” Keener dismantles the evidence offered by Crossan and others as to the reliability and usefulness of the extra-canonical gospels. Of particular interest is his discussion of the Gospel of Thomas and Q. The former is found to be of almost no use to historical Jesus studies in spite of the efforts by Crossan. His discussion of Q is a model of sanity. While granting the existence of Q, Keener thinks any discussion that takes us to the “layers” of Q and the “Q community” are exercises in speculation far removed from any available evidence. To speculate on what a community believed or did not believe based on a mere seven pages of text is a flight of fancy. Still other scholars, like Mack, seek to find the original Q by removing elements like eschatology so as to make Jesus appear more like the Cynic he believes Jesus to be. Keener also takes a brief look at some “more dependable noncanonical sources” like Tacitus, Suetonius and Josephus but finds that they have little to offer and for good reason—Jesus was, quite frankly, not all that important to the point of their writing. Why should this surprise us? He notes, “Josephus claims to have been a Pharisee, and tells us much about the historic role of Pharisees. Yet he never mentions Hillel, founder of the Hillelite school revered in later rabbinic sources. Dio Cassius reports the Judean revolt of 132-135 CE without ever mentioning Bar Kochba—its leader! Similarly, we would not expect to find much interest in Jesus himself in contemporary Gentile documents, or in fact among anyone except his followers.” (68)

In the introduction Keener says he’s tried to “avoid technical jargon” and to keep the book “short and understandable enough to be useful to not only scholars but to students and former students of the subject, as well as others sufficiently interested in the topic to engage ancient sources.” (xxxiii) So far I would say he has met his goal. Some may question how well he managed to keep it “short” since it totals 831 pages. But consider this: 349 pages are the actual text. Pages 350 – 393 are appendixes. The remaining part of the book is footnotes, bibliography and indexes. So basically you’re looking at 400 pages of reading—not bad at all. For those looking for a good introduction to the topic this would be a great place to start.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas - Laid in a Manger Wrapped in Swaddling Clothes

Advent is over and Christmas is here! The colors have changed from purple (or blue) to white. The readings for today are as follows:

Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Luke 2:1-20 and Titus 2:11-14. This is as they are found in my Ancient Christian Devotional. However, the readings for today, The First Sunday after Christmas, as found in the Revised Common Lectionary are these: 1 Sam. 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Col. 3:12-17 and Luke 2:41-52. I used the ones in the devotional.

As I was reading through Luke I was struck by how much of the passage is so controversial. Was Jesus really born in Bethlehem? Is Luke accurate in his account of the census? What’s the significance of Jesus being the first born? Why was there no room at the inn? What does the “inn” refer to? Why are the shepherds watching their sheep at night if it was winter? Was it winter? The questions go on and on. I decided to review some of the treatment of the passage in Raymond Brown’s The Birth of the Messiah. Many of Brown’s conclusions are more liberal than my own but that doesn’t mean I don't learn from him. I enjoyed the short segment he had on the significance of Jesus being in a manger and in swaddling clothes. Here is part of what he wrote:

“Curiously, Luke seems more interested in telling his audience where Mary laid the newborn baby! He is careful to report that Jesus was swaddled and laid in a manger because of the lack of space at the lodgings. . . Most of the popular reflection on vs. 7, however misses Luke’s purpose. Certainly irrelevant are speculations about why there was no room at the lodgings (influx of people for the census; presence of soldiers who took the census inscriptions; etc), especially when these speculations lead to homilies about the supposed heartlessness of the unmentioned innkeeper and the hardship of the situation for the impoverished parents. As the Lucan account now stands, the manger does not signify poverty but a peculiarity of location caused by circumstances.

Since the manger appears in all three subdivision of Luke 2:1-20 (vss. 7, 12, 16) and Luke himself refers to it as a sign (12), what is its symbolism? [After offering one unlikely possibility Brown suggests a better one.] A better suggestion relates the symbolism of the Lucan manger to God’s complaint in the LXX of Isa 1:3: ‘The ox knows it owner; and the donkey knows the manger [phante] of its lord; but Israel has not known me; my people has not understood me.’ Luke would be proclaiming that the Isaian dictum is repealed. The shepherds have been sent to the manger to find the Lord who is the source of joy for all people of Israel; they go and, finding the baby in the manger, begin to praise God. In other words, God’s people have begun to know the manger of their Lord. . . The swaddling, far from being a sign of poverty, may be a sign that Israel’s Messiah is not an outcast among his people but is properly received and cared for. In Wisdom 7:4-5 Solomon, the wealthiest of Judah’s kings, affirms: ‘I was carefully swaddled and nursed, for no king has any other way to begin.’ Giblin has phrased the total picture well: Jesus is born in the city of David, not in lodgings like an alien, but in a manger where God sustains His people. His swaddling does not belie his royal role.” (pp. 418-420)

David Pao and Eckhard Schnabel in the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament have this observation: "In light of the emphasis on the Davidic dynasty in Luke 1-2, it is tempting to follow J. W. Oiley (1992) in seeing an allusion to 2 Sam. 7:6 LXX, 'I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a lodge [katalyma] and a tent' (cf. 1 Chron. 17:5), in the use of the word katalyma ('inn'). This would fit quite well in 'the city of David' and 'the house and family of David' (Luke 2:4). Nevertheless, this word alone is insufficient to establish this connection, since it also appears in the LXX in various contexts unrelated to the Davidic promises (cf. Exod. 4:24; 15:13; 1 Sam. 1:18; 9:22; Jer 14:8; 40:12 [33:12 MT; Ezek. 23:21)." (p. 266. The reference to Oiley is to Expository Times 103: 300-301, "God on the Move--A Further Look at Kataluma in Luke.")

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

On behalf of all the staff here at Baker Book House I would like to wish you a blessed and happy Christmas. For those of you who have an empty chair (or crib) this year for whatever reason I pray God's grace would be yours in abundance. Though the joy of the season will be lessened I pray it will not be eclipsed. May I say a special thank you to those who have continued to pray for me and my family. Your prayers are so very appreciated. Also, I want to give a public thank you to my co-workers who "adopted" our family and provided gifts and food to help us this year. Your generosity is overwhelming. But more than that your comfort and care have provided immeasurable support and strength. You've been a shelter in a storm. Coming to work is a joy and it's all because of you. Thank you.

From my family to yours: Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Note About Comments

I love comments as much as any blogger. But recently I have received a number of comments which are written entirely in Chinese (as near as I can tell). Thanks for the comments but unless I can read them I don't feel comfortable posting them. I welcome your comments but ask that you please use English to the best of your ability. I'm happy to edit them if they need a little polish. A friend tells me I should copy and paste them into a document and then get a program to translate it. Does any one know how reliable such programs are? If that's an option I may try that too. I'm not ignoring you. I would just like to understand what you are writing. Thanks!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In Store Now - Pocket Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship

Well, this one slipped by me since I noticed we received it in the store back in October. For those of you who are like me who don't come from a liturgical background there is a lot of unfamiliar language. IVP has a series of Pocket Dictionaries which are excellent resources for laymen and especially small group leaders who need a handy reference work that will provide definitions on any number of topics. The latest in the series is this one: the Pocket Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship. Since I've decided to follow the liturgical year this year I thought this would be a great resource. I'll give you one example.

The other day I was looking through the Book of Common Prayer and I noticed something called "The Collects". There was a prayer that followed it but I didn't know why it was called a Collect. This was a perfect opportunity for me to use my newly acquired dictionary. I looked it up and sure enough it was there. Here's what it said:

collect. A fixed liturgical *prayer for a particular occasion (i.e., the prayer of the day), so called because it was the comprehensive prayer of the *minister that collected the prayers of others present. As some are quite ancient, collects encapsulate a tradition's theological reflection (see lex orandi, lex credendi). Many liturgical books provide the texts of numerous collects.

This was very helpful. You'll notice some words are preceded by an asterisk. This is to indicate that that word is defined elsewhere in the dictionary.

With that I thumbed through looking for words I was never quite sure of the meaning: vespers, matins, introit, daily office and more. They were all there and most were very helpful. I say most because I would have liked a couple of them to give a little longer definition but it is, after all, a pocket dictionary. Over 600 terms are included. Topics include:

- Practices, such as altar call and benediction
- Rites, such as baptism and Eucharist
- Symbols, such as incense and dove
- Texts, such as Apostolic Constitutions and Book of Common Prayer
- Gestures, such as kneeling and sign of the cross
- Vestments, such as alb and robe
- Musical terms, such as a cappella and Agnus Dei
- Observances, such as All Saints' Day and Easter
- Architectural features, such as apse and sacristy

It also has three pages of bibliography for those who want to dig deeper. It is a paperback with 136 pages and sells for only $8.00. I look forward to using mine all year long.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Priest Gives the OK to Shoplifting (as long as it's a big business and you really need it)

I was intrigued by the post from First Things that a priest added a footnote to the eighth commandment. But as I read the post I thought "this can't be right". It said that a priest actually sanctioned shoplifting as a viable option for the poor--as long as it was from large national businesses and not small ones. What? That couldn't be right. Someone has got this all wrong. But it wasn't.

Father Tim Jones of the UK said that in order to avoid greater sins like prostitution, mugging, or burglary it would be better if the poor shoplifted. He also said that God's love for the poor outweighs the property rights of the rich. Here's how Father Jones put it:

"I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices. I would ask them not to take any more than they need, for any longer than they need. I offer the advice with a heavy heart and wish society would recognise that bureaucratic ineptitude and systematic delay has created an invitation and incentive to crime for people struggling to cope."

He continues, "Let my words not be misrepresented as a simplistic call for people to shoplift. The observation that shoplifting is the best option that some people are left with is a grim indictment of who we are. Rather, this is a call for our society no longer to treat its most vulnerable people with indifference and contempt. Providing inadequate or clumsy social support is monumental, catastrophic folly."

Has it really come to this? Shoplifting 101? Will Father Jones conduct a seminar to help the poor know when and how they qualify for this new entitlement? Who defines the "need"? What if you live in a small town with no large national businesses? (And yes, they do exist.) Is it then okay to steal from the mom and pop store? I have no doubt that Father Jones has seen the plight of the poor in ways that would break our hearts. But this is not the answer.

Jesus and the "Illegitimacy Tradition"

[The following post depends greatly upon the discussion by John P. Meier in A Marginal Jew vol. 1 pp. 89-111 and esp. 222-229, and Lynn H. Cohick’s Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, pp. 152-156.]

As early as the second century we have record of allegations that Jesus was born illegitimately. But is there any evidence that these charges go back even further? We start with noting that in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (dating is debated but it was probably written after A.D. 150) there is no mention of it. Justin was an apologist and in this book he is arguing with a Jew over matters related to Jesus. One of those issues is the virgin birth. It is significant that in their lengthy discussion nothing is ever mentioned about Jesus being illegitimate.

In the New Testament itself two passages are most often appealed to in order to show that the charge was fairly early: Mark 6:3 and John 8:41.

Mark 6:3 reads, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.” (ESV)

John 8:41 reads, “You are doing the works your father did." They said to him, "We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God." (ESV)

The argument goes something like this: In Mark the reference to Jesus as “son of Mary” is unusual since people were referred to by who their father was not their mother. The reference is a subtle hint at Jesus’ illegitimate birth. In John the Jewish leaders mention that they are not “born of sexual immorality.” Surely this must be seen as a slur against Jesus’ own birth.

While even conservative commentaries often come to similar conclusions I don’t think it is a necessary one. What about Jesus being called “son of Mary”? It’s true that this is an unusual expression. Most people of the time were referred to by their father even after the father had died. But not always. Meier points to the Old Testament case of Zeruiah, the mother of Joab, Abishai, and Asahel, three leaders of King David’s troops. He notes, “These three notables—individually or together—are always identified in the Bible as the ‘son[s] of Zeruiah’ their mother, never as the sons of their father (see, e.g., 1 Sam. 26:6; 2 Sam. 2:23; and so without exception throughout 1-2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles, for a total of 24 occurrences). The usage continues in Josephus and the rabbinic literature.” (226) He concludes “The phrase indicates illegitimacy no more than it indicates virginal conception—another interpretation to which this battered text at times has been subjected.” Furthermore, Lynn Cohick observes that Jesus’ siblings are also mentioned. While these could be half- (or step) siblings she says “it is possible that all the children mentioned are Mary’s; since the other children’s legitimacy is not questioned, and Jesus is grouped with them, we could assume that the townsfolk are not commenting on Jesus’s illegitimacy.” (154) Finally, she notes that a textual variant does exist which reads “son of the carpenter and of Mary.” If this is the original reading then this could indicate a scribal change that removed the reference to the carpenter’s son thereby hinting at the virgin birth (especially since Mark does not include a nativity narrative). The expression therefore, in and of itself, cannot be used to indicate an illegitimate birth.

What about John 8:41? Meier shows from the context that it is Jesus that is on the attack here. He has accused the leaders that they have a father who is not Abraham but rather they were doing the works of their real father—the devil. According to Meier “Jesus, in effect, has accused them of disobedience or infidelity toward God. They reply: We are not guilty of spiritual infidelity to or apostasy from God, sins described in the OT in terms of fornication.” (228) Furthermore, “when the verbal battle becomes even fiercer in v 48, when for the first time the Jews stop defending themselves and start attacking Jesus with slurs, their first accusation is that he is a Samaritan. This is hardly intended in a physical, biological sense. Rather, by questioning the Jerusalemite Jews’ status as the true children of Abraham, Jesus, in their minds, is aligning himself with the ‘heterodox and schismatic’ Samaritans, who question the Jews’ status as the only children of Abraham and Jerusalem’s status as the one true place of temple worship.” (228) Meier concludes that “the theme of illegitimacy in John 8—as in Mark 6:3—must be judged a classic case of retrojecting later theological debates into an earlier text that shows no signs of such disputes.” (229)

Cohick adds another consideration—the accusation of Jesus befriending tax collectors and sinners. She says “if he was illegitimate, no one would comment on the fact that he was mixing with what would be seen as his own crowd. That he is with those ‘beneath’ him on the social ladder is what generates the comments and the shock. If he was the illegitimate outcast that some describe, no one in any leadership capacity would give him two minutes of their time. . . instead, it seems that Jesus spoke in synagogues, dined with Pharisees, and did the sorts of things that no outcast or illegitimate son would have the opportunity to do.” (155)

If this were a court case I think the testimony of both Cohick and Meier present enough evidence to give plenty of "reasonable doubt" on the charge of illegitimacy against Jesus. That it was true in later centuries there is no doubt but there is little, if any, evidence that it goes back to New Testament times.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

4th Sunday of Advent - Reflections

Our readings today are as follows:

Micah 5:2-5a
Psalm 80:1-7
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-55

I spent most of my time on the Magnificat in Luke. For those who don’t know this refers to Mary’s song as found in Luke 1:46-54. It is called the “Magnificat” because the first words of the passage in Latin are “Magnificat anima mea, Dominum.”

It is a beautiful hymn (poem?) where Mary is captured by God’s mercy, holiness, power and his mindfulness of her. The God who works wonders is working in this young girl’s life for reasons she can’t begin to imagine. She sees herself as blessed. Do we? Talk about Mary too much in some Protestant circles and you’ll be thought of as a closet Catholic. Isn’t it funny how we can’t mention Mary very much but we can talk about David, Abraham, Ruth, or Esther as much as we like. We craft entire sermons and study guides around their lives and glean from them lessons to grow on. But talk about Mary and someone is sure to say, “Why are you so obsessed with Mary? Shouldn’t we focus on Jesus?” At some level this reaction is understandable. Protestants watch the veneration (often confused as worship) offered to Mary in the Catholic and Orthodox churches and feel very uncomfortable with the amount of attention she receives. My experience has been that rather than try to understand what lies behind this veneration we would rather assume there can be no good reason for it and so we swing the pendulum in the other direction. Not only will we not call Mary “blessed” we won’t talk about her at all. (Although see the work by Tim Perry from IVP Academic: Mary For Evangelicals: Toward an Understanding of the Mother of Our Lord and from Scot McKnight we have The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus.)

What do I learn from Mary here? Without too much thought two things come to mind. Whatever shame she may have experienced from friends or family here she is lost in praise to God and reflective of his works and his character. Secondly, she is still carrying the baby. At this point we are still waiting for the birth. While we wait for Jesus we can and should reflect on what God has done and what wonders await us. Advent bids us to wait, to expect, to prepare. As we do that we can ponder, as Mary did (Luke 2:19), the works of God and what will come when this baby is born. We find ourselves waiting again. This time for Jesus’ second coming. As we wait, remember what God has done in our lives and in the lives of others. The fact that God is working does not mean life does not have painful moments. It doesn’t mean all our questions will be answered. Our confidence and hope lie in the character of God. Mary reminds us that God’s mercy “extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” That generation includes us. With Mary, then, let us magnify the Lord and rejoice in God our Savior!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

In Store Now - Jesus and Money

What did Jesus say about money? Good question, and one that deserves a good book. Enter Ben Witherington III with his latest book called Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis.

Craig Keener writes of this book: "This timely book blends Witherington's exegetical skill and his pastoral concern to address a very relevant issue. His interpretations of various passages reveal the complexity of issues involved in interpreting and applying texts about money that many take for granted. While this work is a welcome retort to the Scripture-twisting of prosperity preachers, it will also challenge many who have been living large without sustained theological reflection on their lifestyle." Keener is professor of New Testament at Palmer Seminary.

Sondra Ely Wheeler has this to say: "In Jesus and Money, Ben Witherington has done something that is not nearly as easy as it looks: he has presented a clear, accessible, and carefully balanced Christian view of wealth. He draws from a range of scholars of different theological stripes, embracing necessary complexities while ruling out popular views that are simply untenable. This will be of help to any church group that wants to take an honest look at what the Bible teaches us about money." Wheeler is Martha Ashby Carr Professor of Christian Ethics, Wesley Theological Seminary.

In an appendix Witherington looks at "Ten Christian Myths about Money." Here they are:

1) If you just trust God, he will give you 'all the desires of your heart.'

2) If you 'seek first the kingdom of God,' then God will give you all the things you long for.

3) If you tithe, then God will necessarily bless you for more than you have given. This is based on sayings like: "Ask and it will be given to you" (Matt. 7:7).

4) If we are just sincere enough in our asking, or simply pray long and fervently enough, God is bound to give us what we ask for.

5) Money is the root of all evil. hence the nicknames 'filthy lucre' or 'unrighteous mammon.' Therefore it's better for Christians simply not to focus on making money, which is at best a necessary evil.

6) Lending money at interest is not a problem for those who see the Bible as the Word of God.

7) As examples of Solomon and others in the Old Testament show, God has no problem with a Christian being wealthy.

8) As long as I am thankful and know where my blessings come from, maintaining an attitude of gratitude towards God, I can do whatever I please with my money, within certain obvious ethical bounds (e.g., not squandering it on sexually immoral practices).

9) Since we are saved by grace through faith, God will not hold us responsible for what we do with our money.

10) As a tithing Christian, I am free to do as I like with the 90 percent I have not tithed.

The book is a hardcover with 192 pages from Brazos Press and sells for $18.99.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Great Website on St. Nicholas

Tis the season to talk about Santa Claus. But how much do you know about the real St. Nicholas? Are they the same? How did "Santa Claus" come to be what he is today? I found this great website on St. Nicholas. I especially enjoyed the essay on "Saint Nicholas and the Origin of Santa Claus." If you have kids there are some fun activities and games for them to play. One interesting fact I learned is that St. Nicholas probably attended the Council of Nicea. Legend has it that he was "so incensed at some remark of the heretic Arius about Christ and the Theotokos that he punched Arius in the nose." Our current Santa probably wouldn't be much bothered by such theological disputes and he would never punch anyone in the nose!

Stop by the website and see what you think. I think you'll enjoy it.

Merry Christmas!

In Store Now - God The Peacemaker

The past couple of weeks we've had some great books come in. January will be a busy month for reading. This newest contribution to the New Studies in Biblical Theology looks very interesting. God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom comes to us from Graham Cole.

In the series preface D. A. Carson writes "Even to begin to do justice to this theme one must attempt at least five things: (1) The way the theme of sacrifice and atonement develops in the Bible's storyline must be laid out. (2) Equally, the way this theme is intertwined with related themes (the holiness of God, the nature of sin, what salvation consists of, the promise of what is to come, and much more) must be delineated, along with (3) more probing reflection on a selection of crucial passages. These first three items belong rather tightly to biblical theology. Of course, (4) how these themes have been handled in the history of the church's theology must not be ignored. (5) Equally, if the volume is to speak to our generation, it must engage some of the more important current discussion. Dr. Graham Cole is well qualified to address all five of these dimensions." (12)

I look forward to reading this not only because the topic is a timely one but the series has consistently provided some of the finest scholarship on the issues addressed.

It comes from IVP Academic and is a paperback with 296 pages. It sells for $26.00.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Did Mary Face Shame During Her Pregnancy?

Many today believe that Mary faced a good deal of shame during her pregnancy and after the birth of Jesus. In addition they say Jesus was early on alleged to be illegitimate. Let’s take a closer look.

It was while reading Lynn Cohick’s newest book, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, that this issue was raised fresh for me. Ironically, I’ve been reading a short book by Verlyn Verbrugge called The Not-So-Silent Night which has an excellent chapter on “Mary’s Shame” which should not be missed. Both authors, however, come to very different conclusions. As his chapter title suggests, Verbrugge believes Mary was the object of shame and disgrace. Given the shame/honor culture of the day her family would have been appalled at Mary’s premarital pregnancy. Mary would certainly have been scorned by her family and those who knew her. Verbrugge sees pointers to this in Mary’s trip to Elizabeth. She makes this eighty mile hike with no apparent support from her family. After three months with Elizabeth Verbrugge suggests Joseph took Mary into his home—an unheard of event in that day. Why did he do this? One suggestion is that Mary may have been in danger of what is commonly known today in the Middle East as an “honor killing” and Joseph assumed the “role of protecting her 24/7.” (40)

Cohick disagrees. She says the misunderstanding all hinges on the implications of Mary being an “unwed mother.” She observes that, “such a conclusion does not take into account the betrothal customs of the day. Mary and Joseph had a binding contract of marriage; all that awaited was the wedding. If they engaged in sexual intercourse with each other, that was not seen as a violation of any norm.” As she explains earlier the “betrothal carried legal weight; the bride-to-be was considered married. The arrangement was called an inchoate marriage.” (62) Furthermore, the “decision to end this relationship through divorce indicates that the betrothal was seen as an inchoate marriage.” (64) She cites latter rabbinic writings which indicate that a future groom who has sexual relations with his future bride “is not guilty of immoral behavior. If pregnancy occurs before the wedding, this is not a problem because the parentage is secure.” (153)

Cohick further explores the manner in which Mary is portrayed in the rest of the Gospels. She is invited to weddings (John 2) where servants listen to her “which may imply that she is family and/or that she has clout in the group. Either way, it does not seem likely that they would pay attention to someone whom every wedding guest presumably would ignore.” (155) We see her traveling regularly to the temple with large groups (Luke 2:41-52). She concludes that the picture we have “does not suggest that Mary was a social pariah. Instead, in these sketches she participates fully in the social and cultural network of Jewish villages in Galilee and Judea.” (155)

So, at this point I'm straddling a fence. I don't think Mary's family, however many knew, were jumping for joy at the news of her pregnancy but I think Cohick's point is that the shame motif has been perhaps pressed too far. I have no idea what kind of relationship Mary had with her family to surmise what kind of reaction she would have received. I imagine the story of a virgin birth would not have been received well (no matter how close they were). But Cohick raises some good points which make me wonder if the shame motif has been over played. Here's another one that's going to the "back burner" for further pondering.

But what about the charges of the illegitimacy of Jesus? We’ll look at that in a later post.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In Store Now - The Faith of Jesus Christ

If you are at all interested in Pauline studies you won't want to miss the book. The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical, and Theological Studies is a compilation of essays on the very controversial "Pistis Christou" debate. At this point some of you are saying, "The what debate?" Glad you asked.

Pistis is the Greek word for faith and Christou is the genitive form of the word for Christ. The debate centers around how this particular genitive should be translated: as an objective genitive which would be "faith in Christ" or as a subjective genitive which would be the "faithfulness of Christ." It may seem like a small matter but the debate has been raging for well over thirty years and the implications can be massive. Indeed, in the introduction Michael Bird says the interpretation of this phrase "affects a whole constellation of issues about the nature of salvation, the person and work of Christ, the contents of faith, the character of the church, and even Bible translations." (3) The book is edited by Michael F. Bird and Preston M. Sprinkle and it is loaded with some of the best scholarship from both sides of the debate. Here's how the catalog describes them:

University of Durham luminary James D.G. Dunn authors an erudite foreword; and editor Michael Bird introduces the problems and prospects for a New Testament conversation on the topic. Debbie Hunn, Stanley E. Porter, and Andrew W. Pitts contribute essays about the background of the pistis christou discussion. Douglas A. Campbell, R. Barry Matlock, Paul Foster, and Richard Bell clarify Pauline texts in contention. Mark A. Seifrid, Francis Watson, Preston M. Sprinkle, and Ardel B. Caneday explore Pauline exegesis, hermeneutics, and theology. The witness of the wider New Testament is covered by Peter G. Bolt, Willis H. Salier, Bruce A. Lowe, and David deSilva. Finally, Mark W. Elliott and Benjamin Myers offer historical and theological reflections from the church fathers, Karl Barth, and others.
To be clear this is not an introductory level book. Some knowledge of Greek is required and the discussions can get fairly complicated quickly. But for those who take the time and effort to make their way through their labor will not be in vain.
It is a paperback with 350 pages and sells for $24.95. It comes from Hendrickson Publishers. Michael Bird is Tutor in New Testament at Highland Theological Seminary, Scotland. His blog is Euangelion. Preston Sprinkle is Associate Professor of New Testament at Eternity Bible College, California. Some of you may not know but Eternity Bible College was founded in 2004 by Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2009 Bible Sale - Reflections

So what do people buy when all Bibles are 50% off? I'm always interested to see the results of our annual Bible sale. This year there weren't any real new Bibles that people were breaking down the doors to get (there were some releases but none that had quite the buzz of something like when the ESV Study Bible was released). We started our sale with an inventory of 2450 Bibles. 1502 of those are different in some way (different binding, color, indexed, etc.). I can safely say that we have the best selection of Bibles in West Michigan. We included our Spanish Bibles, audio Bibles and foreign language Bibles.

Our sale was over two days--Friday and Saturday, Dec 11th and 12th. Because of snow our Friday business was slower than we would have liked but Saturday was great.

Over the two days we sold 360 Bibles. Here's some stats that may interest you:

Best selling study Bibles - Life Application Study Bible (in three translations - NIV/NLT/NKJV) second place goes to the NIV Study Bible and tied at a distant third was the ESV Study Bible and The Quest Study Bible. The Life Application Study Bible almost doubled the sales of the NIV Study Bible and was four times as much as the ESV Study Bible and The Quest Study Bible.

Sales by translations - NIV - 40%; ESV 13%; NLT 10%; KJV 8%; Message 7%; NKJV 7%, and TNIV 5%. All others were less than 5%.

What surprised me? We didn't sell any of the Lutheran Study Bible. Last year's big winner, The Chronological Study Bible, only sold four copies. Guess everyone got their copy last year. I would have never guessed that the Life Application Study Bible would have been so strong. Makes me glad that I beefed up inventory on them. We did sell out of the Bible Across America. Should have got more of those. I would have guessed that more ESV Study Bibles would have sold. What surprised me here most was that I sold out of the hardcover while sitting on some very nice leather editions. Even at 50% off people went with the hardcover. Signs of the economy is my only guess.

Overall, we were very happy with the sale and we had some very happy customers.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Historical Jesus: Five Views - A Review 10 - Responses to Bock

We come now to the final set of responses in our survey of The Historical Jesus: Five Views. Darrell Bock is the Evangelical of the bunch and I expected he would get a fair amount of criticism but some of it I was not prepared for. Price responds directly to Bock's claim that none of the critics of Jesus denied his historicity. He says, "Why is it not at least a natural, viable reading of Justin's Rabbi Trypho to understand him this way? 'You have invented a messiah for yourselves.' Everyone takes this to mean, 'You Christians have made the wrong man into a messiah.' which indeed it might conceivably mean, but that seems to me to bear apologetical stretch marks." (285) He then points to how some New Testament events are probably simply stories based on Old Testament events. Jesus riding in Jerusalem on a donkey is borrowed from Zechariah 9:9 and 1 Samuel 9:5-14 where "Saul and his companions are likewise looking for donkeys and enter a city." (287) Jesus' trial probably comes from 1 Kings 22:24-27.

Crossan actually turns Bock's uses of the criteria of embarrassment against him. Bock observed how Mark portrays the twelve disciples consistently in a bad light and when Jesus calls Peter Satan he asks "would the church create an event where it compares its lead apostle to the paragon of evil?" The answer would seem to be no they wouldn't. But Crossan disagrees. The church wouldn't do such a thing "but Mark would--and did." (289) "Mark created much of them precisely to 'embarrass' the (presumably, later theological heirs of the) Twelve, the Three, and especially Peter." (289) So, for Crossan the criteria of embarrassment is only when Jesus is the object of embarrassment.

But the two members of the Jesus Seminar have nothing on the cutting criticism of Luke Timothy Johnson. For him almost all of Bock's essay is "disqualif[ied]" from "serious consideration as a historical study. In effect, Bock reads the Gospels as reliable on every point and capable of revealing Jesus' inner thoughts and motivations. . . If at any point he had entertained the possibility of some passage of the Gospels not yielding real historical knowledge, his essay would have gained in credibility." (294) Bock believes the Gospels--all of them in every detail--therefore his essay has no credibility! Never mind that Bock argues time and again for the historicity of the passages he considers. For Johnson, Bock would be a serious historian if only he would find a few errors. Then, and only then, would he deserve a hearing. He ends his essay with this: "Bock has not yet really engaged the Gospels critically as sources. Despite the statements that open his essay, he has not yet grasped what historical analysis requires." (296) Now don't misunderstand me--Johnson does interact and provide detailed criticism of many of Bock's points. But above them all stands the impression that Johnson is simply humoring us by even considering a response to this amateur attempt at Gospel criticism.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

3rd Sunday of Advent - Reflections

This is the third Sunday of Advent and it is called Gaudete Sunday. The theme is one of joy and rejoicing. The Scripture readings are from Zeph. 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Phil. 4:4-7 and Luke 3:7-18. The penitential aspect of Advent is lightened but not erased (see the Luke reading). As I did my readings I was moved by the emotion of the Zepheniah passage. Here we read that not only will the people rejoice but God will "rejoice over you with singing." The other passages are brimming with joy and excitement. As we come to the Luke passage, however, the theme of repentance returns. John warns his hearers to "produce fruit in keeping with repentance." In my own mind I tied the two themes together. As beautiful as the joy is that we have because of our God it [our joy] does not come without us having to face our sin and deal with it. The proper preparation of our heart and the fruit that accompanies our repentance will open the channel for joy to take full expression in our lives.

I leave you today with a prayer from Steven James' book A Heart Exposed.

O Creator of Beating Hearts,
and Healer of Broken Ones,
I've let my passion grow cold
since those days
when I first began my journey
with you.

You've become a part of my life
rather than the center of it,
a distraction rather than the direction.
And my prayers have grown stale,
stored so conveniently
in the cupboard of my heart.

So here' what I ask:
give me the eyes of a newborn believer;
introduce yourself to me again.
Amaze me with your presence
and upset the comfortable balance
of my numb and stable life
with your strange brand of
fiery grace.

Crack open my courage and my awareness
so that I can finally speak to you
with all of my will and emotions,
with heartfelt needs and honest fumbling,
instead of holding myself back and
offering up such
hollow little prayers. (15)

Friday, December 11, 2009

People of the Spirit: Exploring Luke's View of the Church

I finished reading Graham Twelftree's People of the Spirit: Exploring Luke's View of the Church this past week and I plan on reading it again. When James D. G. Dunn said the book was "challenging and often controversial" he was right. Rarely did I finish a chapter without having to rethink some of my thoughts on Luke and the church. This is not so much a review as a summary of some of the author's conclusions in this outstanding work.

1) The church did not start at Pentecost but with the gathering of the disciples by Jesus.

2) The record of Pentecost as found in Acts 2 is a creation of Luke.

3) There is no evidence for infant baptism but baptism is necessary for conversion.

4) Tongues is not an initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit.

5) Luke does not see the people of God as a people of the book but a people of the Spirit. We should therefore give greater weight to prophecy, visions and dreams in seeing God guiding the church "without always requiring legitimation from Scripture." (156)

6) The locus of revelation is not found in ancient documents but rather in the "events and experiences in which all subsequent people of God can now be caught up." (212) Luke, he says, would find our "preoccupation with Scripture” puzzling. (212)

7) The "breaking of bread" (Acts 2:42) does not refer to the Lord's supper and Luke shows no real interest in the Eucharist. Neither does Luke have any real interest in the people of God meeting on Sunday.

8) Perhaps most intriguing to me is his insistence that according to Luke the church does not have a two-fold mission: evangelism and social justice. His continued refrain is simple: "Whereas, generally, we preach the good news to each other in our churches and attempt to apply social justice to a pagan world, Luke's view is that the followers of Jesus should present the good news in a pagan world and apply social action and justice to the Christian community." (14, 197, 215) And, "There is nothing in Luke's portrait of Jesus to suggest he was modelling social action towards outsiders." (194) On this point Twelftree cannot be misunderstood: "Social action, in terms of caring for the physical needs of the outsider, plays no part in Luke's view of mission." (203) Indeed, on this issue he admits "the vast majority of the Church would part company with him [Luke] in his seeing neither a political nor a social aspect to the mission." (215)

9) Jesus' primary ministry to those outside the community came in the form of healing and exorcism.

Having said all that Twelftree does not think Luke is trying to create the perfect model for everyone to follow. Given the dependence on the Spirit he says "Luke would agree that development and change are fundamental to the character of the Church." (213) This remark (after #6 above) left me wondering why we were bothering to study Luke so intently or cared what he thought about the church in the first place.

There is so much here to think about and, in many cases, to rethink that I'm going through the book again. Twelftree has made me think hard about many issues. Some are small (To what does the "breaking of bread" refer?) and some are vitally important (What is the mission of the church?).

I don't plan on doing a formal review but I would like to raise some of these issues in some future posts.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Does "The Twelve Days of Christmas" Contain a Secret Code?

In an earlier post I commented how much fun I was having with a couple of Ace Collins' books showing the stories behind some of our Christmas traditions. I recently read his account behind the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas." As Collins tells the story the "Catholic faith was outlawed in sixteenth-century England" and so the church went underground. Clerics of the day composed poems which, while appearing silly to others, were "veiled works that taught the church's most important tenets." (178) In The Twelve Days of Christmas we have one of those poems. What follows are the key words from the song and their symbolism:

True Love = God
Partridge = Jesus (the partridge being the only bird that will die for its young)
Two Turtledoves = Old and New Testament
Three French Hens = Faith, hope, and love
Four Calling Birds = The four gospels
Five Gold Rings = The Pentateuch
Six Geese a-laying = First six days of creation
Seven swans a-swimming = Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
Eight Maids a-milking = Those whom Jesus cared most for as enumerated in the beatitudes
Nine Ladies Dancing = The fruit of the Spirit
Ten Lords a-leaping = Ten commandments
Eleven Pipers Piping = The eleven disciples (Twelve disciples less Judas)
Twelve Drummers Drumming = Twelve points of doctrine as found in the Apostles' Creed.

This all sounds very interesting but it has one simple problem: it appears to be little more than a fairly recent legend with no historical credibility. Gretchen Passantino of Answers in Action (a researcher and an early colleague of the late Walter Martin) said she used to tell this story in her travels until she was challenged on it. Upon further research she found the song wasn't as old as the story required and "that it had not been associated with a memory-device catechism until recently." (and also says the story lacks historical credibility. Both sources say there may have been some confusion with another song called "A New Dial" (also called "In Those Twelve Days") which dates back to about 1625. This song did have a 12-day theme and it does assign a religious meaning to each of the days. Here are the lyrics to "A New Dial":

In those twelve days let us be glad,
In those twelve days let us be glad,
For God, by his grace, hath all things made.
What is that which is but one? (Repeat)

We have but one God alone
In heaven above sits on his throne.
What are they which are but two?

Two Testaments, we are told:
The one is New, the other Old.
What are they which are but three?

Three persons of the Trinity,
The Father, Son, and Ghost Holy.
What are they which are but four?

Four Gospels, written true,
John, Luke, Mark, and Matthew.
What are they which are but five?

Five senses we have to tell
God grant us grace to use them well.
What are they which are but six?

Six ages of this world shall last;
Five of them are gone and past.
What are they which are but seven?

Seven days in the week have we,
Six to work and the seventh holy.
What are they which are but eight?

Eight beatitudes are given;
Use them well and go to heaven.
What are they which are but nine?

Nine degrees of angels high
Which praise God continually.
What are they which are but ten?

Ten commandments God hath given:
Keep them right and go to heaven.
Jesus' sake.What are they which are but eleven?

Eleven thousand virgins [martyrs] did partake
And suffer death for Jesus' sake.
What are they which are but twelve?

Twelve Apostles Christ did choose
To preach the Gospel to the Jews.

The story of a secret code in a Christmas carol may be appealing to lovers of The Da Vinci Code but you'll not find it in The Twelve Days of Christmas. The partridge in a pear tree is just a partridge in a pear tree.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Keeping the Christmas Story Straight

We sell a lot of manager scenes in the store and many of them come complete with animals, angels and the most complete ones always have the three wise men. Children growing up have these images running through their mind has they're told the story of Mary and Joseph not finding room at the "inn" and so the baby Jesus is born in a stable with all the animals watching and the three wise men presenting their gifts.

Ben Witherington has a nice post entitled Star-Studded Wise Men: Rethinking the Christmas Story. It's worth reading just to be able to separate truth from fiction. Many thanks to my friend Paul who provided this link along with several others related to the Christmas season (He even included a couple of mine. Thank you Paul.) He plans on updating the post as he comes across more items of interest so check back from time to time to see what's new.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Historical Jesus: Five Views - A Review 9 - Essay by by Darrell Bock

Darrell Bock writes the final essay in our book and represents the Evangelical view. Bock agrees that the best place to start the quest is in a Jewish context given our “accumulating knowledge of Second Temple Judaism” but we have to remember that “the Jesus of Scripture is a Jesus remembered.” (250-51) Bock also agrees that we should use the “rules historical Jesus scholars use.” (252) He lists these rules as “multiple attestation, dissimilarity in one of its variety of forms, coherence, Aramaic substratum, embarrassment, cultural appropriateness and/or historical plausibility.” (252) Even using all the same rules Bock admits that the results of the study will vary among scholars and will, at best, give us “access to the gist of Jesus.” (252)

Bock begins by acknowledging that Jesus did, in fact, exist. He points to Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius and other later Jewish and Roman sources for support. He says, “There is no evidence that those who opposed the movement attributed to him denied his existence.” (253) Bock then begins a trek through Scripture noting “key themes, events and sayings that help us zero in on what Jesus about.” (253) Some of these include Jesus’ association with John the Baptist; the character of Jesus which includes his reaching out to the fringe; the call of Jesus ministry which is a call to total commitment; and the subject of Jesus’ ministry which was the kingdom of God and the promised age of God. Along the way Bock incorporates some of the rules to demonstrate the validity of a certain saying or event. For example, when Jesus rebukes Peter and calls him “Satan” Bock asks, using the criteria of embarrassment, “Would the church create an event where it compares its lead apostle to the paragon of evil?” (261) Another example is the temple incident. Bock says “virtually everyone . . . sees it as important to understanding Jesus.” (268) The church would not have created this event because it sought “to be careful about being seen as seditious, and yet the event plays right into that danger. Thus that it took place best explains its presence.” (269) Bock spends a good amount of time looking at other events or themes such as the Last Supper (271f), the Jewish examination of Jesus (273f), the examination of Jesus by Pilate and the crucifixion (276f) and the resurrection of Jesus after a certain death (278f). With each passage Bock is careful to consider the historical credibility of the event and its significance for understanding Jesus. What does Bock conclude? “A messianic Jesus who saw himself standing at the hub of God’s program and completely vindicated as Son of Man at God’s side produced a coherent, corroborated narrative for the early church. Such an account of him stands solidly rooted in what the historical Jesus actually said and did.” (281)

Next time we'll look at the responses to Bock and I'll give some final impressions of the book as a whole.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Announcing our 3rd Annual Bible Sale

This Thursday and Friday (December 11th & 12th) we will be having our annual Bible sale. All Bibles* will be sold at a 50% discount off the retail price. That's right, 50%! Also, there is a 30% discount off all Bible cases and Bible accessories!

Here's what you need to know:

1) The sale is good for in-stock items only. No special orders.

2) The discount is off the regular retail price. Many of our Bibles have publisher-set sale prices on them. The discount is not off that sale price.

3) The sale is valid for in-store customers only. Sorry, no email or phone orders.

4) We will not put Bibles on hold during this week.

5) No other coupons or other offers may be applied.

6) The sale cannot be applied to previous purchases.

If you are in the area or know someone in the area (call them and tell them to come in) be sure to come in and take advantage of this great buy. We look forward to seeing you. Come early for the best selection. Store hours are 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. on Saturday.

* There is one exclusion to the sale and that is the NET Bible. Per agreement with the publisher we will not offer the NET Bible at a discount price.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

2nd Sunday of Advent - Reflections

I've added another book to my Sunday readings. I wasn't looking for anything else to read but stumbled upon this while walking through the store. It's the Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings edited by Cindy Crosby. The clincher for me to buy it was that it follows the lectionary cycle C.

I've decided to follow the Revised Common Lectionary for my Scripture readings. I want to allow more time to meditate on the passages I read instead of trying to get too "ecumenical" by following the readings from other traditions (even if they don't vary by much). This week the readings were as follows:

Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9
Luke 1:68-79
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

The themes of preparation and repentance are unmistakable. The ESV Study Bible text note on Mal. 3:1 says "From the 'delight' mentioned in this verse, it appears that Israel had repeated the error of their forebears in the days of Amos (Amos 5:18) by supposing that the Lord's appearance would be unmitigated good news. When he comes, it will be not only for blessing, as they assume, but also for judgment--he will come to be a 'witness' (the term in Mal. 3:5 is the same as in 2:14) against all evildoers, including these blasphemous cynics!"

May God prepare our hearts and cleanse them with a refiner's fire as we await his coming. I leave you today with this prayer from Origen as found on the back of The Ancient Christian Devotional.

"Lord, inspire us to read your Scriptures and meditate on them day and night. We beg you to give us real understanding of what we need, that we in turn may put its precepts into practice. Yet we know that understanding and good intentions are worthless, unless rooted in your graceful love. So we ask that the words of Scriptures may also be not just signs on a page but channels of grace into our hearts."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Why Do We Kiss Under Mistletoe?

I'll admit I've never been a big reader of Christmas books but I've had fun with a couple of the books by Ace Collins. In this book, Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas, we are treated to a potpourri of stories that enlighten us to why or how so many of our Christmas traditions got started and their significance. When I saw there was a chapter on mistletoe I had to read it. How did that get started and why do we need to kiss under it? Here's my thumbnail summary but you really should the whole story.

Mistletoe is a plant that is parasitic in nature and can thrive during the harshest of winters. In ancient times this made mistletoe appear as a kind of miracle plant. When everything else was dying mistletoe was growing. The early Greeks and Celts saw this as only the work of God who could bring a new plant out of a dead winter. Collins writes "Scandanavian warriors would stop fierce battles if they or the opposing soldiers suddenly found themselves under trees where mistletoe grew." (126) The plant became a symbol of peace. Later it began to take on another role--one of protector. Plants were put on doors of homes and barns to ward of enemies and by the Middle Ages it was placed over babies' cribs to ward off illness and evil spirits. Collins continues "As this legend of the restorative power of mistletoe berries migrated to England, the plant became a symbol of love. When a couple passed under the plant, they had to stop and kiss. If they did, God would bless them with everlasting love. Still, to make sure this custom was not abused, the boy had to pick one berry for each kiss. When the berries were gone, the kissing was supposed to end." (127)

About 1843 Christians adopted mistletoe as a Christmas symbol. Christ had promised to bring everlasting life to a barren and hopeless world. Christians in Europe posted mistletoe over their doors not to ward off evil spirits but "to show the world that they believed in the love of God had sent the world through his Son, Jesus Christ. The power of the plant that thrived in the toughest of times also represented their faith. Christians believed that God would see them through persecution, wars, famines, and plagues. His grace would cover them even on the darkest, coldest days." (128) A French legend said that a single sprig of mistletoe grew on the cross where Jesus died. This was sign of God's undying love and showed that new life would spring from the brutality of the cross.

Collins concludes "Today the mistletoe's Christian message of peace, faith, and hope has been largely lost, but even if in a childish fashion, the message of love has remained. . . In a world that often embraces Christmas without embracing its real meaning, maybe it is time to bring mistletoe back into the church. Maybe by having the green sprig with red berries hanging in a house of worship, people can reclaim mistletoe as the symbol of sustaining faith, hope, and love." (130)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Does God Have Wrath?

Does God have wrath? Seems like a simple question doesn't it? Increasingly though it seems that it's not quite right to believe that God has wrath or gets angry. These notions are deemed unworthy of God and are simply the remnants of a less enlightened age. I read yesterday that Julian of Norwich (this is the book I was looking at) did not believe there was any wrath in God and some find this to be a very liberating thought. Some like to create all sorts of caricatures of the wrath of God and then politely ask if that is what we "really" believe about God. When all else fails they pull the trump card--the wrath of God is simply not compatible with his being all loving.

I want to highlight one of my favorite books on the love of God. Now this is not a new book but it is one you should be aware of. It is called Nothing Greater, Nothing Better: Theological Essays on the Love of God edited by Kevin Vanhoozer and is published by Eerdmans. Take a look at the table of contents:

1. Introduction: The Love of God — Its Place, Meaning, and Function in Systematic Theology by Kevin J. Vanhoozer

2. The Concept of Love: Divine and Human by Gary Badcock

3. A Biblical Theology of the Love of God by Geoffrey Grogan

4. Augustine, Christology, and God as Love: An Introduction to the Homilies on 1 John by Lewis Ayres

5. How Do We Define the Nature of God's Love? by Trevor Hart

6. Is Love the Essence of God? by Alan J. Torrance

7. The Wrath of God as an Aspect of the Love of God by Tony Lane

8. Can God Love the World? by Paul Helm

9. Will the Love of God Finally Triumph? by David Fergusson

Postscript: The Love of God: A Sermon on Hosea 11 by Roy Clements

I would like to quote two paragraphs from the chapter by Tony Lane.

"Judgment is according to one's response to the love of God in Jesus Christ (John 3:16-21,36). But why is this? It might appear that God's judgment is no more than the macabre revenge of a jilted suitor. If wrath is nothing more than rejected love, God is open to the following charge: 'Why does he get so angry, then, when we just want to be left alone?' But there is more to the story than simply jilted love. We are God's creatures and own him our love and obedience. We are sinful people who have been 'bought with a price' (1 Cor. 6:20). We are not autonomous beings receiving overtures of love from a neo-Marcionite God who has no more claims upon us than the romantic affections of a stranger. The love that is being spurned is the love of Creature for creature, of the One who has redeemed us at great cost. To reject such love is to turn one's back upon one's only hope and to consign oneself to wrath and judgment." (page 166)

"The fallacy of those who deny the wrath of God lies in the attempt to reduce God purely to love. As Brunner notes, 'the Nature of God cannot be exhaustively stated in one single word.' In particular, the holiness of God must not be suppressed. P. T. Forsyth has made this point forcefully with his talk of 'the holy love of God.' Our starting point should be 'the supreme holiness of God's love, rather than its pity, sympathy, or affection,' this being 'the watershed between the Gospel and the theological liberalism which makes religion no more than the crown of humanity.' 'If we spoke less about God's love and more about His holiness, more about His judgment, we should say much more when we did speak of His love.'" (page 161)

Speak less about God's love and more about his holiness and judgment. Now there's something you don't hear everyday. But don't miss Forsyth's point. The better we understand God's holiness and judgment the more meaningful becomes his love. There's wisdom here but far too many will dismiss it without giving it a second thought.

So, my answer is to the original question is "Yes, God does have wrath and it is not incompatible with his love."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

In Store Now - Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John Frame

I have always loved to read the writings of John Frame. He is one of those writers who writes deeply but has a gift for clarity. Today we received this new title, Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John M. Frame edited by John J. Hughes from P & R Publishing. Some of my favorite books by Frame are Apologetics to the Glory of God (one of the best treatments of apologetics from a presuppositional viewpoint), No Other God: A Response to Open Theism, The Doctrine of God, and The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. This is only four of the thirteen books he's published. He was also a contributor to the Zondervan counterpoints book Five Views on Apologetics where he defended the presuppositional method against apologists William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, John Feinberg and Kelly James Clark. Here's how the P&R website describes this newest book:

"Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John M. Frame is a festschrift honoring Prof. Frame's career in seminary teaching. However, this book does not merely collect essays on the subjects of Frame's interests; it analyses Frame's own work in the fields of theology, apologetics, ethics, worship, the church, and others. The authors include Wayne Grudem, Richard Pratt, Paul Helm, Vern Poythress, Bruce Waltke, William Davis, William Edgar, Peter Jones, Reggie Kidd, and others who are familiar with Frame's work. Many are Frame's former students and colleagues. This is the first large-scale analysis of Frame's distinctive approach."

You can find the table of contents here and the first chapter "My Books: Their Genesis and Main Ideas" written by Frame here. This is a great chapter if you're not familiar with Frame since you can get a quick overview of what he's written and his own summary of the main idea of each work. He has a combined website with Vern Poythress with plenty of articles and book reviews. Highly recommended.

I've added this book to my Christmas list. Maybe you'll want to as well. It is a hardcover with 1500 pages (!) and sells for $59.99. From what I've seen already--it's worth every penny.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen: Do You Know What You're Singing?

For all these many years I've been singing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" without giving too much thought to what this particular phrase meant. I suppose if asked I would have said God was giving rest to some happy fellows and encouraging them not to dismay (the next line says "let nothing you dismay.") Was I ever wrong!

I recently read a bit of history on this carol from Ace Collins' book 25 Days, 26 Ways to Make This Your Best Christmas Ever (see chapter/day 3). The carol was written in the Middle Ages by an unknown peasant. The two important words are "rest" and "merry." The words in the historical context take on very different meanings from what we know today. Collins explains, "During ancient times the English meaning for the word rest went well beyond the meaning we attribute to it today. The word also meant "make" or "keep." Thus, when "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" was written, the composer's charge was for listeners to let God make a change in their hearts and minds about the good news found in Christ's birth and life." (27)

Then we come to the word "merry." This was an even bigger surprise. While it could mean "happy" it "was also often employed in place of the word mighty. Robin Hood's companions were known as his Merry Men, but that didn't mean this famous band of warriors was happy; they were powerful. . .When Great Britain was called "Merry Old England," it was the most powerful nation in the world. 'Eat, drink, and be merry' really meant that well-fed troops would always be ready for battle. Thus when taken in context, the new meaning of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" becomes "God keep you mighty, gentlemen.'" (28)

I've found the same idea found elsewhere (for those who want two or more witnesses). So next time you sing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" you'll sing it with new meaning and, I suspect, with a little extra boldness. For now, have a mighty Christmas!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Coming Soon from Crossway: The Secret Providence of God

Before we leave 2009 (the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth) I thought you should know about a forthcoming title by Calvin called The Secret Providence of God. Here's the catalog description from Crossway:

"In 1558 John Calvin held a prominent position of leadership in the Reform movement. He had written prolifically and his works had been widely circulated-and critiqued. It was at this time that he penned an answer to a critique of his position on divine providence, as articulated in the 1546 edition of the Institutes. His polemical defense of his beliefs, The Secret Providence of God, reflects the boisterous, argumentative tone of the Reformation era and is Calvin's fullest treatment on this most important doctrine. Unfortunately, in recent decades this work has been largely forgotten.

With this new English translation of Calvin's work, editor Paul Helm reintroduces The Secret Providence of God to students, pastors, and lay readers of Reformed theology. Translator Keith Goad has modernized the English while preserving a Latinized translation style as far as possible. Helm has provided a full introduction, discussing the work's background, content, style, and relation to Calvin's other writings on providence."

This is due out January 31, 2010. It will be a paperback with 128 pages and sell for $15.99.