Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

If you're a novice like me with following the liturgical year it may be wise to stop and get our bearings.  We are currently at the fourth Sunday after Epiphany (or the fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time).  This year there are six Sundays after Epiphany followed by Transfiguration Sunday.  Ash Wednesday (the seventh Sunday before Easter) marks the start of Lent which this year is on February 17th.  In the Roman Catholic church Lent ends on Maundy Thursday.  In other traditions it ends on Holy Saturday (the Saturday before Easter). 

The readings for today are Psalm 71:1-6; Jer. 1:4-10; 1 Cor. 13:1-13 and Luke 4:21-30. 

On 1 Corinthians 13 I like what David Garland writes in his commentary from the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. For readability I have omitted the references of his quotations. He writes:

“Second, this is not a hymn to love. It is an integral part of Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians, and the list of things that love does and does not do is ‘aimed at the special faults of the Corinthians.’ Hurd suggests that omitting the negatives in each clause leaves us with a good description of the Corinthian’s behavior. They are impatient and unkind, filled with jealousy, vainglorious, and puffed up. They insist on their own way, are cantankerous and resentful, and rejoice in the wrong rather than right. Sigountos writes, ‘Such specific repetition of catchwords and phrases cannot be accidental: Paul intends to praise love by choosing acts that blame the Corinthians.’ This section becomes quite ironic. While praising love, Paul is blaming the Corinthians at the same time. The upshot is that although the gifts of the Spirit are conspicuous in their assembly, their lack of love is even more conspicuous. Rather than being a hymn glorifying how wonderful love is, this text becomes a subtle commentary on what is rotten in Corinth. ‘The stark message here is that while love stands the test of life, the Corinthian Christians have failed it miserably.’” (p. 616)
The application is clear: how does my own life compare?  I leave you with these words from a hymn by Thomas Pollock. 

We have not known Thee as we ought,
Nor learned Thy wisdom, grace and power;
The things of earth have filled our thought,
And trifles of the passing hour.
Lord, give us light Thy truth to see,
And make us wise in knowing Thee.

We have not feared Thee as we ought,
Nor bowed beneath Thine awful eye,
Nor guarded deed and word and thought,
Remembering that God was nigh.
Lord, give us faith to know Thee near,
And grant the grace of holy fear.

We have not loved Thee as we ought,
Nor cared that we are loved by Thee;
Thy presence we have coldly sought,
And feebly longed Thy face to see.
Lord, give a pure and loving heart
To feel and know the love Thou art.

We have not served Thee as we ought,
Alas, the duties left undone,
The work with little fervor wrought,
The battles lost or scarcely won!
Lord, give the zeal, and give the might,
For Thee to toil, for Thee to fight.

When shall we know Thee as we ought,
And fear and love and serve aright?
When shall we, out of trial brought,
Be perfect in the land of light?
Lord, may we day by day prepare
To see Thy face and serve Thee there.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Around the Web

Should Mother Theresa be on a stamp?  The United States Post Office was going to do it (and still may as near as I can tell) but ran into objections from the Freedom from Religion Foundation.  Joe Carter from First Things blog says technically they may be right by the letter of the law but the law is a stupid one. 

Scot McKnight asked his readers what they thought of the State of the Union address by President Obama.  The responses were unusually negative for his blog. 

Jeff from the Scripture Zealot alerts us to a new website coming from Tyndale.  This surprised me a lot since I had just met with my Tyndale rep this week and he said nothing about it.  Shame on you Gary. 

John Piper gives us a peek at his writing projects for 2010 and says he will be at this year's Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) Conference and he will be on a panel with N. T. Wright and Frank Thielman discussing justification by faith!  I'm giving serious thought to going.  

Kevin DeYoung has a wonderful post on the "Fetid Pool" of self promotion.  For similar thoughts see the post by Bruce Little at the Evangelical Philosophical Society blog. 

My friend Paul Adams continues his review of Philip Payne's book Man and Woman, One in Christ.  You'll find part five here where he outlines Payne's argument that 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is an interpolation. 

Just a reminder that our new website will be coming in February.  As soon as it's up I'll be sure to let you know. 

Friday, January 29, 2010

John Frame on the Sufficiency of Scripture

One of my favorite writers is John Frame.  This quote is from his book The Doctrine of the Christian Life.  I'm grateful to my co-worker Kyle who gave it to me as a gift this past Christmas. 
"Christians sometimes say that Scripture is sufficient for religion, or preaching, or theology, but not for auto repairs, plumbing, animal husbandry, dentistry, and so forth.  And of course many argue that it is not sufficient for science, philosophy, or even ethics.  This is to miss an important point.  Certainly Scripture contains more specific information relevant to theology than dentistry.  But sufficiency in the present context is not sufficiency of specific information but sufficiency of divine words.  Scripture contains divine words sufficient for all of life.  It has all the divine words that the plumber needs, and all the divine words that the theologian needs.  So it is just as sufficient for plumbing as it is for theology.  And in that sense it is sufficient for science and ethics as well." ( p. 157)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

D. A. Carson on Hypocrisy

The next couple of days are going to be quite busy for me so I went to one of my favorite books by D. A. Carson to find a quote to use.  It didn't take long. 
"We human beings are a strange lot.  We hear high moral injunctions and glimpse just a little the genuine beauty of perfect holiness, and then prostitute the vision by dreaming about the way others would hold us in high esteem if we were like that.  The demand for genuine perfection loses itself in the lesser glory of external piety; the goal of pleasing the Father is traded for its pygmy cousin, the goal of pleasing men.  It almost seems as if the greater the demand for holiness, the greater the opportunity for hypocrisy.  This is why I suspect that the danger is potentially most serious among religious leaders." 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In Store Now - The Making of an Atheist

I just finished reading my friend's (Paul) post and then this book came in the store and a light bulb came on.  His post made reference to the author of this new book from Moody Publishers: The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief.  It also reminded me a similar recent post by Mike Wittmer which said "everyone who rejects God does so for ethical rather than intellectual reasons."  This is a daring thesis but one which I think has considerable Biblical support. 

On the back cover we read:
"Atheists may insist that their unbelief is the result of impartial reasoning and an unbiased look at the evidence.  but what if these arguments were a smokescreen--an exercise in self-deception?  What if atheists' will and moral compass were more responsible for their anti-theism?" 
"Drawing on Scripture, psychology, philosophy, and case studies of the lives of famous atheists, Spiegel shows that atheism is suppression of mankind's inborn sense of God's existence.  Such anti-faith springs from moral rebellion against God's ethical standards, and often the psychological trauma of missing or defective father."
"Most of the work done today in response to atheism focuses on intellectual issues.  James Spiegel has crafted a clear, crisp, compelling case that there are nonrational moral and psychological dynamics that lead to unbelief.  Rooted in Scripture and argued with the precision of a trained philosopher, this powerful book is a must read for theists and atheists alike!"  Chad Meister, Bethel College school of religion and philosophy, coeditor of God is Great, God is Good

James F. Spiegel is a professor of philosophy and religion at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.  The book is a paperback with 141 pages and sells for $12.99. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Against the Theory of "Dynamic Equivalence"

The debate surrounding how to translate the Bible is one that will probably never go away.  If someone were to ask me if I favor dynamic equivalence or formal equivalence I would have to say on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I favor formal equivalence and on Thursday, Friday and Saturday I favor dynamic equivalence.  On Sunday's I try not to think about it.  All of that to say I have learned much from both sides and I understand their passion.  But I want to point you to an article (book?) by Michael Marlowe who is decidedly against the theory of dynamic equivalence.  I've read Marlowe's stuff for years and I like much of what he has to say.  This article (an updated version of a previous article) is one of the finest pieces I've read which opposes dynamic equivalence. Marlowe has thought long and hard on this issue and he has some penetrating criticisms which bear hearing.  I should make a couple of observations.

1)  Marlowe acknowledges in several places some of the deficiencies in translations like the ESV, NASB or the RSV.  He is not blind to the legitimate complaints about these translations and he has several of his own.

2)  Marlowe does not simply parrot other critics of dynamic equivalence like Leland Ryken.  Marlowe is much more conversant with the original languages and with linguistic theory.  Some of the history that he reveals about Eugene Nida is very interesting.

3) His tone is sometimes too harsh for me and he does make some unnecessarily sweeping statements.  These kind of comments may well cause some to reject the article has just another pejorative rant about dynamic equivalence. I've read worse but Marlowe could lower the heat in a few places. 

4) His criticisms of the New Living Translation are almost all of the first edition.  He is certainly aware of the second edition (He did a review of it and he thinks it is an improvement over the first edition.) but the citations he makes in this essay are all of the first edition.  It would have been nice if he had acknowledged where they had made some appropriate changes.

5) His primary targets are the New Living Translation, the Good News Bible (also known as Today's English Version), the Contemporary English Version and the New Century Version

This is an excellent work and would benefit anyone who has an interest in Bible translation.  Bible translation aside Marlowe's website, Bible Research, is a gold mine of information on the history of the canon, texts, and versions of Scripture.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Scot McKnight on the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture

Scot McKnight offers praise to both Baker Academic and the authors of a new commentary series written by and for Roman Catholics.  To date four have been published:

Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson
Second Corinthians by Thomas D. Stegman
First and Second Timothy, Titus by George T. Montague
The Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy

Here's some of what McKnight wrote:
"Baker Academic has done something that should lead all of us to a moment of thanksgiving: I could be wrong, but I think Baker is the first evangelical publishing house that has a commentary series on the Bible by and for Roman Catholics."
"There's something about this series that is notable: the authors explain the Bible in theologically orthodox ways and explain the text clearly, succinctly and without a lengthy apparatus of the history of interpretation or discussions of alternative views. Solid exegesis; discussion of the evidence as needed; not much bibliographical reference. Just expounds what the text says and moves on. In other words, this could be the first commentary read by a pastor preparing a text and could be read easily by a Sunday School teacher preparing a text, and it would be an excellent commentary for a college Bible class. Sometimes the passages end with reflection and application. A little more thorough than the Tyndale series, and a bit like Black's NT commenaries (sic), the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture will prove itself to be a reliable, Catholic -- but ecumenically open and respectful -- commentary. Kudos to Baker, but even more to the authors."
McKnight says he has "dipped into and enjoyed two of them" (The Gospel of Mark and Second Corinthians).

Here is an example of a side bar on the issue of "The Brothers and Sisters of Jesus":

"Who are the brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned here and throughout the New Testament (John 2:12; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:19)?  Some commentators have contended that they refer to Jesus' full siblings.  But the ancient Church unanimously held that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life.  That Mark is not referring to full siblings of Jesus is indicated by his later mention of James and Joses as sons of a different Mary (Mark 6:3; 15:40; see Matt. 27:56).  Moreover, the brothers' authoritative behavior toward Jesus (Mark 3:31-32) suggests that they are older than he, although Jesus is Mary's firstborn (Luke 2:7).  Both Hebrew and Aramaic, lacking a word for 'cousin,' used 'brother' to refer to a range of kinship relationships (See Gen. 13:8; 2 Kings 10:13-14; Rom. 9:3).  The Greek term adelphos also admitted a wider meaning that full-sibling.  Catholics have traditionally interpreted Jesus' brothers to refer either to his cousins, as St. Jerome held, or to children of Joseph by an earlier marriage (see Catechism, 500)."  (The Gospel of Mark, p. 79)
The commentaries are based on the New American Bible and all have the Catholic imprimatur.  They are paperback and sell for $19.99. 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Psalm 19:12-13a: A Plea for Forgiveness or Strength?

Today’s readings are Neh. 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; Luke 4:14-21 and 1 Cor. 12:12-31a.

It’s been a while since I’ve read Psalm 19 and reading it again was like seeing an old friend. That may sound corny but it’s how I felt. I read through it a couple of times and decided to look at a few commentaries. It was while reading John Goldingay that I discovered a different interpretation of vv. 12-13a. Here’s how the passage reads in the ESV:

Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!

Every other translation I consulted had the same thought. It was a plea for forgiveness and a request not to be dominated by sin. Here’s the commentary from Goldingay with his translation first:

Who can understand wanderings?—free me from secret acts,
Yes, withhold your servant from the willful.

“EVV [abbreviation for {many} translations] add a pronoun to suggest that v. 12 asks who can understand one’s own individual wrongdoing, but this is not the psalm’s point. It rather begins from a more general sense of puzzlement at the human inclination to go off the rails. The mystery of human sin is the fact that we all go astray even though we can see that God’s expectations make sense, in the way vv. 7-11 have described.
LXX and Jerome assume that v. 12 then asks God to cleanse the suppliant from hidden or secret wrongdoings, but this obscures an issue in the Hebrew. The verb is not one meaning ‘cleanse’ but naqa (piel), ‘acquit.’ The OT makes a number of references to acquitting the guilty, but always in order to affirm that God does not do so and that human beings should not (Exod. 34:7; Job 9:28; 10:14). One person can certainly forgive another, and kings can pardon wrongdoers, and God can both forgive and pardon, but the OT does not use the law-court image in this connection because acquitting the guilty is an immoral act and one destructive of the community’s foundations. It is therefore unlikely that the psalm is asking for cleansing in the sense of acquitting existing wrongdoing, even (or especially) secret or hidden wrongdoing.
But naqa (niphal) can denote being free or empty, and the piel verb here seems to have an equivalent meaning. The cleansing for which the psalm is asking is not forgiveness but the removing of the inclination to wrongdoing. That makes for a good link with the verse’s opening question and a good lead-in to the parallel colon. Further, without the plea for acquittal for past sin, vv. 12-14 have more coherence. Their concern throughout is with a life of obedience that issues from the right attitude to God’s expectations that vv. 7-11 have lauded. They are asking for strength, not forgiveness.”
In explaining “secret acts” Goldingay says there may be two things in mind. It could be the “secret plots that precede actual wrong deeds; hiding is involved when people are planning acts of deception or malice (cf. the cognate nouns in 10:8-9; 101:5).” But it can also involve people who are “seeking help from other deities”. He mentions the secret rites in Ezek. 8 where people are bowing down to the sun. This would tie in nicely with vv. 1-6. “The challenge of vv. 7-11 then concerns a religious life lived by Yhwh’s word rather than one that follows the religious practices of other peoples.”

The “willful” are not sins but rather the “kind of people who are involved in secret plans to do wrong to someone or who secretly worship other deities” and “who do not feel any obligation to take any notice of Yhwh’s instructions. . . The plea constitutes another recognition that the person who sees the wisdom in Yhwh’s teaching (vv. 7-11) is not thereby immune from the pressure to join people who walk another way. The masculine ‘willful’ complements the feminine ‘hidden,’ the ‘hidden things’ being the deeds and the ‘willful people’ those who do them. In another context ‘sparing me from the willful’ could imply protecting me from their attacks (cf. LXX?), but in this context it will signify a plea that I not be sucked into their willfulness (cf. Ps. 1). Yet these two needs may overlap. The willful lean on people to join them—or else.”

Psalms, Volume 1: Psalms 1-41, 294-296.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Embarrassed by the Wrath of God?

I find it interesting that when some people begin to talk about the wrath of God or hell they begin with something like this: "Now if it were up to me I wouldn't have a hell or wrath but that's what the Bible teaches so we should believe it."  I've never been comfortable with that sentiment because it implicitly questions the wisdom of God not to mention his very goodness.  Why should we shy away from one of God's attributes or anything that he deems worthy of creation?  So I was a bit surprised to read this by D. A. Carson in an essay he wrote on the wrath of God.

"Would it be churlish of me to admit that, had I been given my choice of topics from the advertised list, I would have chosen most of the others before choosing the one actually assigned me?  Yet my reluctance to leap at the topic of the wrath of God may merely reflect a broadly based Western sensibility that is uncomfortable with easy talk about God's anger or God's wrath, a sensibility that reads the ancient nqm in terms of a vengeful spirit fed by a bad temper and understands the ancient hrm in a fashion unable to be differentiated from genocide and ethnic cleansing, a sensibility that reads Jonathan Edwards in terms of Elmer Gentry."  ("The Wrath of God" in Engaging the Doctrine of God edited by Bruce L. McCormack, p. 37)

I was a bit taken aback even with his nuance.  As I read the essay I couldn't shake this initial paragraph from my head.  But then I got to the end of the essay, and as Carson usually does, he anticipated my question and answered it head on. I was much more satisfied. He writes:

"If I began this essay by intimating that the wrath of God is a 'problem,' in certain respects this intimation must be seen as an exercise in misdirection.  God's wrath is a 'problem' in that people withdraw from the category and often refuse to face realistically its prevalence in Scripture.  But the biblical writers are not embarrassed when they treat the theme.  This is surely because, for them, the wrath of God is an entirely just and therefore admirable display of holiness as it confronts sin.  To be embarrassed by what Scripture so clearly and repeatedly sets out as belonging to the character of God when he deals with rebels is not the stance of sophistication and moral superiority.  Rather, it is the stance of arrogant disbelief.  What right does the creature ever have to be embarrassed by the Creator?  To disown the theme of judgment is to slouch toward the very first reported instance of doctrinal disavowal--the insistence of the serpent, 'You will not certainly die' (Gen 3:4).  Far better and wiser is it to see that the theme of God's wrath provides, inter alia, another angle into who God is, into the blinding brilliance of his holiness (cf. Is. 6).  And this must end in worship."  (p. 63)

I had to shout a hearty amen!

Friday, January 22, 2010

In Store Now - Christianity in the Greco-Roman World

If there was an itch to know more about the historical and cultural background of the Bible there are more and more books out to scratch it.  This latest one comes from Hendrickson Publishers.  Christianity in the Greco-Romand World arrived in the store late yesterday so I didn't even have time to skim it. 

Here's the catalog description:

"Background becomes foreground in Moyer Hubbard’s creative introduction to the social and historical setting for the letters of the Apostle Paul to churches in Asia Minor and Europe.

Hubbard begins each major section with a brief narrative featuring a fictional character in one of the great cities of that era. Then he elaborates on various aspects of the cultural setting related to each particular vignette, discussing the implications of those venues for understanding Paul’s letters and applying their message to our lives today. Addressing a wide array of cultural and traditional issues, Hubbard discusses:

• Religion and superstition:
• Education, philosophy, and oratory:
• Urban society:
• Households and family life in the Greco-Roman world:

This work is based on the premise that the better one understands the historical and social context in which the New Testament (and Paul’s letters) was written, the better one will understand the writings of the New Testament themselves. Passages become clearer, metaphors deciphered, and images sharpened. Teachers, students, and laypeople alike will appreciate Hubbard’s unique, illuminating, and well-researched approach to the world of the early church."

Here are a couple of the endorsements:

"This is, quite simply, the most accessible, engaging and helpful introduction to the wider world of the earliest Christians that is available. It is achieved through a mixture of imaginative narrative evocations, thoughtful socio-cultural descriptions and careful, nuanced interpretations of relevant biblical texts. The result is not just an excellent introduction to, but an immersion in, the life and times of the earliest believers, one that brings the NT to life for our times as well."
Robert Banks, Adjunct Professor, Ancient History, and Associate, Centre for The Study of Christian History and Experience, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

"Hubbard has woven intriguing narratives with cultural and NT contexts to give readers a vivid picture of what the primitive “Jesus movement” meant to the ancient world. The depth of his cultural research and the thoroughness of his scholarship on the topic of NT Christianity offer readers not just a glimpse, but a total immersion in Greco-Roman life. I commend this work of historical and intellectual importance."
Barry H. Corey, President of Biola University

The author, Moyer Hubbard, is Associate Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, Los Angeles, California.

The book is a paperback with 344 pages and sells for $24.95.  You can also see the table of contents, a sample chapter and the introduction online. 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Craig Keener and the Historical Foundation for the Passion Narratives

I'm still making my way through Craig Keener's impressive volume on The Historical Jesus of the Gospels.  I'm currently reading about Jesus' arrest and execution and he is addressing the problem of the genre and historical reliability of the passion narratives.  I want to let you read two paragraphs where he summarizes the evidence for the historical reliability of the pre-Markan passion narrative.  His leans heavily on Gerd Theissen's book The Gospels in Context: Social and Political History in the Synoptic Tradition in these paragraphs. I've read this same sort of argument before but Keener summarizes it so well I thought I would share it.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
"Theissen argues for the most part (and sufficiently) persuasively that the pre-Markan passion narrative as a whole was in use by A. D. 40 in Jerusalem and Judea.  Thus, for example, Mark preserves names (such as the sons that identify the second Mary and Simon) that serve no recognizable function in his own narrative--but that may well have been recognizable to those who transmitted his early Jerusalem source (Mk 15:21, 40).  Place names like Nazareth, Magdala, and Arimathea would mean nothing to audiences outside Palestine.  (Regarding Mary Magdalene, who would invent an origin in Magdala?  A Magdala appears often enough in later rabbinic sources, but it was not known by this name outside Palestine.)"
"Although one normally identifies local persons through their father's name, most persons in the passion narrative (which identifies more people 'than elsewhere in the synoptic tradition') are identified by their place of origin instead.  This practice makes the most sense in the church's first generation in Jerusalem, when (and where) its leading figures were people from elsewhere.  Mark presumes his audience's prior knowledge of Pilate and (more significantly) Barabbas and other insurrectionists, despite Pilate's confrontation with a wide array of revolutionaries.  Finally, some central characters in the account remain anonymous, probably to protect living persons who could face criminal charges in Jerusalem, fitting other ancient examples of protective anonymity.  Taken together, these arguments seem persuasive." 
But that's not all. 
"Another line of evidence also supports the substantial reliability of the picture of Jesus’ execution found in the passion narrative: it fits what we know of the period in question. Thus Craig Evans compares Josephus’ account of Joshua ben Hananiah, who similarly entered the Temple area during a festival. Like Jesus, he spoke of doom for Jerusalem, the sanctuary and the people, even referring (again like Jesus) to the context of Jeremiah’s prophecy of judgment against the Temple. The Jewish leaders arrested and beat Joshua and handed him over to the Roman governor, who interrogated him. He refused to answer the governor, was scourged, and—in this case unlike Jesus (though cf. Mk 15:9)—released. The different outcome is not difficult to account for: unlike Joshua, Jesus of Nazareth was not viewed as insane and already had a band of followers, plus a growing reputation that could support messianic claims. Joshua ben Hananiah could be simply punished in an attempt to deter his continued antisocial behavior; Jesus of Nazareth had to be executed." (Keener is referencing an essay by Craig Evans called "What Did Jesus Do?" in Jesus Under Fire edited by Michael Wilkins and J. P. Moreland.  Oh, you may be wondering, like I did, whether there could be a literary relationship between Josephus and the Markan passion narrative since there are so many parallels between them.  Evans provides a couple of reasons why he thinks there wasn't one.  See his essay p.114n30.)   
I believe, with Keener, this presents a fairly strong case for the reliability of the pre-Markan passion narrative. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Baker Authors on Prime Time America

One of my favorite shows to listen to on the way home from work (I have a 45-minute commute) is Prime Time America.  I'm always a little more attentive when a Baker author is on.  This week there has been an unusual number of Baker authors on the show.  Take a look: 

Lynn Cohick is on today and tomorrow talking about her book Women in the World of the Earliest Christians

Graham Twelftree is on today and tomorrow talking about his book People of the Spirit

Julia Duin was on Monday and Tuesday talking about her book Quitting Church.

James K. A. Smith was on Monday talking about his book Desiring the Kingdom

Robert Chisholm was on Tuesday talking about his book Handbook on the Prophets

UPDATE:  Christopher Seitz was on today (1/21/10) talking about his book The Goodly Fellowship of the Prophets.

Glenn Stassen was on 1/21 & 1/22 talking about the issue of his book The War of the Lamb

Dan McCartney was on 1/22 talking about his commentary on James in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. 

These are some very good interviews and if you have an interest in any of these authors and their books I would encourage you to give them a listen.

Coming Soon from Westminster John Knox: The Old Testament for Everyone

Many of you are probably familiar with the New Testament for Everyone series from Westminster John Knox by N. T. Wright.  Coming this March will be the first installment of its counterpart: The Old Testament for Everyone which will be authored by John Goldingay.

The first two volumes will be on Genesis (part 1 = chapters 1-16 and part 2 = chapters 17-50) with subsequent volumes coming out every six months.  I'm told they will be written and released in canonical order.  The catalog description follows:
"The book of Genesis is a lively read featuring familiar biblical tales such as the creation of the world, Adam and Eve, and the forbidden fruit, Noah and the flood, Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, the Tower of Babel, and Sodom and Gomorrah.  While readers may know the facts of these stories, Goldingay's work will instill in them a deeper understanding of their spiritual and theological significance.  True to the For Everyone series' goal, Goldingay writes in a thoroughly accessible and engaging style with chapter titles such as 'Friday Lunchtime,' 'Bigamy, Music, Technology, Murder,' 'Babylon becomes Babble-on,' 'Stuff Happens,' and 'Two Guys Who Need Their Heads Banged Together.'" 
Goldingay will be familiar to many from his three-volume commentary on the Psalms published by Baker and his three-volume Old Testament Theology published by IVP.   The Genesis volumes will be paperback with 208 pages and sell for $14.95. 

John Goldingay is David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Was the Samaritan Woman in John 4 a Moral Outcast?

Who was the Samaritan woman in John 4? More to the point what was her social status? Commentators have routinely viewed her as morally suspect. D. A. Carson calls her a “moral outcast”. (216) Andreas Kostenberger goes so far as to call her a “serial fornicator.” (153) But Lynn Cohick has challenged this perspective in her book Women in the World of the Earliest Christians. Cohick lists three main points that have been raised to justify the moral suspect case:

1) The time of the woman’s visit: noon.
2) The circumstances of her visit: alone.
3) Her martial history and current living arrangement.

The first two are quickly dismissed as having no basis in any evidence whatsoever. There is no indication in any of the literature that degenerate women went at certain times to draw water. That she went alone because others would not associate with her is more an assumption than a proof of the thesis. The real meat of the case is Jesus’ statement that she has had five husbands and the one she is with now is not her husband. Cohick examines both.

What about the five marriages? Cohick admits there is no record of someone having been married or widowed five times (though there are records of three marriages). But she says this point “should not necessarily strike the reader as indicating promiscuity—perhaps she was just very unlucky. Other biblical characters had suffered similar loss, such as Naomi.” (123) Perhaps her situation arose due to a combination of deaths and divorces. She says it is “highly unlikely” that she was divorced five times but that it is “entirely credible that she was a widow several times, given the high death rate in that era.” (125) The mere mention of five husbands does not in and of itself imply promiscuity. Unusual yes, promiscuous no.

What about her current living arrangement? She is living with a man who is not her husband. Surely this is sinful and Jesus is confronting her. Even here Cohick cautions us not to move too fast. Clearly Jesus is indicating that her current condition is “in some way different from her previous arrangements.” (125) Cohick suggests a couple of possible different scenarios. Perhaps the woman was a concubine. Cohick appeals to a second century marriage document which relates how a couple was cohabitating before marriage. Greco-Roman marriages were not certified by the state. A formal document was usually only required when a dowry was involved. A marriage contract “basically certified a dowry and detailed how that money would be used or, in the case of divorce, returned.” (126) If a dowry was not present then the couple simply “set up a home together, and they were therefore seen as married by families and neighbors.” (126) Cohick asks if this may not be a similar situation with the Samaritan woman. “Are the woman and her partner waiting for a gift or dowry before writing a contract? If this was the case, Jesus’s comments reveal that he expected a formal arrangement irrespective of a dowry contract.” (126) But she also suggests one other possibility: she may have been a second wife in a polygynous relationship. In this case she says that while the community saw the woman as married in “Jesus’s eyes, her marriage is null and void because he rejected bigamy.” (127)

She also points to the fact that the villagers “accepted her testimony that a prophet is among them—hardly a reaction one would imagine if she was without any moral scruples.” (128) And finally, she notes that as “the narrative unfolds in John, Jesus does not explicitly condemn her situation.” Cohick makes it clear that she’s not suggesting that Jesus is entirely accepting of her situation but that “the narrative does not implicitly or explicitly condemn her.” (128n73)

Cohick concludes: “The Samaritan woman is a woman of her times, living with fairly simple marriage traditions, relatively easy divorce laws, and haunted by the threat that death might at any time steal away a husband or child.” (128)

But does raising “possible scenarios” really qualify as evidence against the moral suspect view? At the end of the day the moral suspect view has to show that it is more probable than Cohick’s suggested alternatives and I’m not sure, given the evidence, that such a verdict can be reached. The strength of Cohick’s alternatives is in some places not much better than the moral suspect view. But I do think her alternatives are not unreasonable and they certainly comport with the culture of the times.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Kevin DeYoung and the Offended

Kevin DeYoung is one of those authors who sprang up over night.  Two years ago most of us would have said "Kevin who?"  But he is quickly becoming more and more popular and with good reason.  Not only does he have a keen insight but he knows how to put it into words that connect.  I refer you to a recent post called "Why Are We So Offended All the Time?"   Here's a sample:

Offendedness is just about the last shared moral currency in our country. And, I’m sorry, but it’s really annoying. We don’t discuss ideas or debate arguments, we try to figure out who is most offended. Buddhists are offended by Brit Hume. Christians are offended that critics disparage Brit Hume. Republicans are offended by Harry Reid’s comments about President Obama. If the shoe were on the other partisan foot, you can bet Democrats would be offended for President Obama (who can legitimately be offended by Reid’s remarks). Whenever someone makes a public gaffe, whether real or perceived, critics storm the microphones to let the world know how offended they are. Why is everyone in such a hurry to be hurt?
For starters, being hurt is easier than being right. To prove you’re offended you just have to rustle up moral indignation and tell the world about it. To prove you’re right you actually have to make arguments and use logic and marshal evidence. Why debate theology or politics or economics if you can win your audience by making the other guys look like meanies?
There’s nothing like being offended to nail your opponent. No one wants to look like a jerk (ok, maybe Donald Trump does). No one wants to come off as a free-wheeling dealer of pain. As a result, we end up held hostage by the possible taking of offense. It’s rarely asked whether such offense is warranted or whether it even matters. No, if there is offense, there must be an offender. And offenders are always wrong.
So we demand apologies. Sometimes, no doubt, because a genuine sin has been committed. But often we demand apologies just because we can. It’s a way to shame those with whom we disagree. It forces them to admit failure or keep looking like a weasel. The weakest offense-taker can now bully multitudes of intelligent men and women through the emotional manipulation that goes with chronic offendedness.
How will some respond to this?  Yeah, you guessed it--they will be offended.  Time for DeYoung to apologize and recant want he wrote.  There will be no discussion of the merits of his case just the assertion that it is offensive.  My solution: a thicker skin, a theology of suffering and a good course in logic.  Short of that just keep reading Kevin DeYoung. 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Coming Soon from Crossway - What is the Gospel?

Want to get a good discussion going?  Ask someone, "what is the Gospel?"  To help further the discussion we have coming this April a book on precisely that issue.  The author, Greg Gilbert, is a new name to me but the lineup of endorsements is impressive and to top it off it has a forward by D. A. Carson.  Gilbert is senior pastoral assistant at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC. 

Take a look at these endorsements:

"Greg Gilbert is one of the brightest and most faithful young men called to serve the church today. Here he offers us a penetrating, faithful, and fully biblical understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no greater need than to know the true gospel, to recognize the counterfeits, and to set loose a generation of gospel-centered Christians. This very important book arrives at just the right moment."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

"A wonderful telling of the old, old story in fresh words—and with sound warnings against subtle misrepresentations. As the old gospel song attests, and as is true of Greg Gilbert’s fine book, those who know the old, old story best will find themselves hungering and thirsting to hear this story like the rest."
Bryan Chapell, President, Covenant Theological Seminary

"Greg Gilbert, with a sharp mind and a pastor’s heart, has written a book that will be helpful for seekers, new Christians, and anyone who wants to understand the gospel with greater clarity. I’ve been waiting for a book like this! As a sure-footed guide to a surprisingly controversial subject, it clears up misconceptions about the gospel, the kingdom, and the meaning of the cross."
Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan.

"Greg Gilbert cuts through the confusion by searching Scripture to answer the most important question anyone can ask. Even if you think you know the good news of what God has done in Christ, Gilbert will sharpen your focus on this glorious gospel."
Collin Hansen, editor at large, Christianity Today

The catalog description follows:

What is the gospel? It seems like a simple question, yet it has been known to incite some heated responses, even in the church. How are we to formulate a clear, biblical understanding of the gospel? Tradition, reason, and experience all leave us ultimately disappointed. If we want answers, we must turn to the Word of God.

Greg Gilbert does so in What Is the Gospel? Beginning with Paul's systematic presentation of the gospel in Romans and moving through the sermons in Acts, Gilbert argues that the central structure of the gospel consists of four main subjects: God, man, Christ, and a response. The book carefully examines each and then explores the effects the gospel can have in individuals, churches, and the world. Both Christian and non-Christian readers will gain a clearer understanding of the gospel in this valuable resource.

It is due out April 30, 2010.  It is a paperback with 128 pages and will sell for $12.99. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

New 9Marks eJournal Now Available

The latest edition of 9Marks eJournal is available and the theme is Liberalism.  A number of the essays interact with the current emphasis on social justice and ask if this isn't the back door of liberalism (again!).  I confess that the increased emphasis I've seen on social justice has left me wondering if there isn't an imbalance in the making.  Along with these articles I would also point you to the article by Kevin DeYoung called A Modest Proposal.  Kevin cautions us on the vague, if not sloppy, use of a phrase like social justice.  His thoughts are worth pondering. 

A few of my favorite articles from the eJournal were:

How to become a liberal without attending Harvard Divinity School.
Is the God of the missional Gospel too small? 
Social Gospel Redux?

I've not read them all but they all look very interesting.  Also, the current issue of Christianity Today has an article by Richard J. Mouw entitled "Carl Henry was Right: Christianity Today's first editor grasped what I as a young theologian failed to understand about church involvement in social justice".  Mouw notes that "a constant theme in his [Henry's] writings was that the church as such has neither the competence nor the authority to address political or economic specifics."  Henry could allow for "emergency situations" like Nazi German but "in the normal course of things, the church should leave it up to individuals to take a very general mandate to think and act Christianly in the public arena."  Though Mouw had originally disagreed with Henry he now believes he was right after all (with a slight nuance).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Divorce and Remarriage: Recovering the Biblical View

Scot McKnight has started a series of reviews on a book about divorce and remarriage which I will be watching with keen interest. (Part 1 is here and part 2 is here, part 3, part 4, part 5)   Why am I so interested in this book?  Let me give you a little history. 

When I was at Moody Bible Institute (1980-1983) I had a habit of latching on to professors and spending countless hours in their office with questions.  Two of those in particular were John Walton and Bill Luck.  I'm sure I often wore out my welcome but they endured me patiently.  If I ever found a disagreement between them I would run between their offices (on different floors) with a verbatim quote of what the other said to see the reaction.  One of the classics was when Luck accused Walton of being a Platonist in his understanding of God's nature.  I told Walton and he said he was not aware of that. When I dutifully reported this to Luck he retorted, "Ah, so he's an ignorant Platonist!"  Both men taught me much in their respective fields (Walton in Old Testament and Luck in Church History, Ethics and Philosophy) but they also showed me how two Christian scholars can engage each other in healthy debate even with the occasional jab.  Luck also gave me a thousand labels for people and their beliefs which Walton found most annoying.

Luck published a book with Harper & Row in 1987 which didn't fair too well in the market place.  It eventually suffered the fate of books which don't sell and was retired to the status of "out of print".  Flash forward to 2009.  I get a phone call from none other than my old professor and, by now, very good friend who tells me he has updated his book and is giving it a second try.  After we catch up on small talk he drops a bomb shell on me.  "Louis, I've dedicated the second edition to you."  I was speechless.  (Ask anyone who knows me; that doesn't happen too often!)  When the copies came into the store I quickly turned to the dedication page to see if it was all just a joke on me.  But there it was, and more.  He dedicated the book both to John Walton and me.  I can't tell you how honored I was by this gracious gesture.

So I will watch as McKnight (who was also a professor of mine when I was at Trinity) makes his way through the book.  I pray that this book does what I know Bill has always desired--to stimulate conversation and to engage the entire Bible on this very important subject.  Many will disagree with him.  That's fine.  He can take it.  His position is a minority one but I think it deserves a hearing.  We do have copies in the store in you would like to see one.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Baker Publishing Group Mourns a Loss

I just received word that one of the editors for Baker Academic, Jeff Wittung, died last night after being injured in a car accident on January 6th.  I met Jeff only once or twice when he was in the store but I recall he was quiet and unassuming.  Below is the information I have provided by Baker Publishing.  Please keep Jeff's family in your prayers. 

Grand Rapids, MI, January 11, 2010 -- Baker Publishing Group mourns the loss of a colleague and friend, Jeffery A. Wittung. Jeff, one of Baker's academic editors, was injured in a car accident on his way to work January 6, 2010. He passed away the evening of January 10. He leaves behind a wife, Marne, and two daughters: Ana (5) and Kate (1).

Jeff joined the Baker staff in April of 2006. He quickly established himself as a colleague of exceptional intellect, wise judgment, gracious spirit, and keen wit. Academic authors who worked with Jeff frequently commended the quality of his editorial interactions. In the workplace, Jeff combined an old-fashioned work ethic with cutting-edge theological insight, wrapping them in a polite, cordial, and good-humored demeanor.

Jeff's scholarly acumen was also on display outside the workplace. He held an advanced degree from Nazarene Theological Seminary (MDiv) and had just finished work for his MPhil from Drew University, completing his comprehensive exams at Drew with distinction. Jeff's interest in the theology of the early church was evident while at Drew, where he was involved in the production of volumes in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series and was coeditor of a well-received volume of academic essays, Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions.

His academic and professional skills and accomplishments, however, were not the primary focus of his life. Jeff was a devoted family man who loved his wife and daughters deeply. He also expressed his knowledge and spiritual gifts in teaching and preaching at his local church, Encounter Community Church of Belding, Michigan.

We at Baker Publishing Group will miss Jeff greatly, and we invite you to pray for the family Jeff leaves behind: his wife and daughters; his mother, father, and sister; his in-laws; and the extended family. They find comfort in Jeff's faith and in their own, but their loss is severe.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ordinary Time - Reflections

As a newcomer to the liturgical year the concept of “ordinary time” seemed peculiar. The Pocket Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship defines it this way:

“In the RC [Roman Catholic Church] those parts of the liturgical year not part of Advent, the Christmas season, Lent or Eastertide; in other words, usually between Epiphany (or the Baptism of Our Lord) and Ash Wednesday, and the long period from the day after Pentecost Sunday to the beginning of Advent. The name derives from the ordinal numbering of the Sundays and their respective weeks. Many other denominations also recognize this time, the Sundays often termed, for example, ‘the n Sunday after Pentecost’ or ‘Proper n.’” Color: green. (p. 95)
Joan Chittister in her book The Liturgical Year devotes two chapters to Ordinary Time: one on the “Wisdom of Enoughness” and the second on the “Wisdom of Routine.” These times are far from ordinary as we usually understand what ordinary signifies. The liturgical year focuses on two major events: the birth of Jesus and his resurrection. Chittister says that Ordinary time affords us the opportunity to “rest in contemplation of those centers of the faith that are the lodestones of our souls. . . In this period that is between the two poles of the life of Jesus, we get to pause awhile. To take it all in. To make the connection between that life, that reality, and our own. They give us time to contemplate the intersection between the life of Jesus and our own.” (96-97) Later she says “It is the time when the implications of Easter and Christmas become most clear to us all. It is decision time: will we take Easter and Christmas seriously or not?” (184) Furthermore, “The Sundays of Ordinary Time are also an education in the faith. The readings of every liturgy for weeks take us piece by piece through the reading of Scripture. They root us in the lives of the chosen people in the Hebrew Testament and, at the same time, they steep us in the unfolding of the Christian Testament.” (185)

She concludes, “There is nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time at all. It makes daliness, stability, fidelity, and constancy the marks of what it takes for Christians to be ‘Christian’ the rest of the year.” (188)

I like this because I think it provides a net for us to fall in after the season of Christmas. We can’t just walk away from Christmas as if it has no bearing on the rest of our lives other than to consider how to pay off the credit card debt. The Liturgical year won’t permit that. We may pack up (or throw away) the tree and the wreath and toss the torn Christmas wrap but the Liturgical Year won’t allow us to pack Jesus away till next year.

I leave you with this prayer as found in the Ancient Christian Devotional from the Leonine Sacramentary:

"Be present, O Lord, to our prayers, and protect us day by day as well as by night, that in all successive changes of time we may ever be strengthened by Thine unchangeableness; through Jesus Christ our Lord." (p. 41)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Was Paul a "More Orderly Thinker" than Jesus?

I recently read a statement made by Dale Allison in his book Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet which took me by surprise.  Here's what Allison was wrote:

Human beings are not vulcans.  Why have critics asked whether Paul's views on eschatology evolved with time and whether Romans and Galatians say different things about the law?  The reason is that the apostle, who was surely a more orderly thinker than Jesus, said some things that do not obviously go together.  Why should we believe Jesus was any different?  Do we have a holdover from the old systematic theology?  Surely if Jesus was, as many have held, an eschatalogical prophet who lived in the imaginative world of the apocalypses, we should not expect much consistency from him, for the essential irrationality of apocalyptic is manifest from the history of messianic and millenarian movements.  (page 3-4, emphasis mine)
My mind went through a whirlwind of ideas?  "This can't be right.  Jesus was God and Paul was just a man.  (The implicit Docetism hit me between the eyes!)  But, Jesus was a real man too with all the limitations that come with it.  Why couldn't that affect the "orderliness" of his thinking?  Disorderliness is not sinful.  Was Paul more orderly?"  Then a host of similar questions came to mind?  "Were there better carpenters than Jesus?"  "Was Jesus the fastest kid on the block or was there someone faster?"  "When Jesus was five could he have drawn a perfect circle?"  Did Jesus ever find himself looking for the right word and saying (in Aramaic of course and with an equivalent expression) "it's right on the tip of my tongue"?  What would be so wrong with that?  Part of what has influenced me, I think, is hearing the word "perfect" used so often when talking about Jesus.  He was the perfect teacher, the perfect preacher, used the perfect expression, asked the perfect question, gave the perfect response, saw the perfect opportunity and on and on.  So, the corollary seems to be, since no one is perfect (except Jesus), then no one could do it (whatever "it" may be) better than he did.  Right?

Clearly Jesus was sinless but does sinlessness entail perfection?  I don't think so.  Having said all that it still seems to rub me the wrong way to say that Jesus' thinking was in some way disorderly.  Perhaps because, for Allison, this disorderly thinking includes the idea of the Jesus uttering contradictions (a conclusion I would certainly deny).  I do think there were probably kids who could run faster than Jesus.  But it's another matter to take a writer like Paul who took time and care in composing a book like Romans and comparing that to a sermon from Jesus or any of his parables and from this judge who is the more orderly thinker.  I'm not saying that any of Jesus' sermons or parables shows signs of disorderly thinking.  It's just to say it's like comparing apples to oranges.  No doubt Allison is thinking of the entire raw data of what we have about Jesus as found in the Gospels (not just one or two samples).  And, compared to Paul's writings, he seems to be able to affirm that Paul was the more orderly thinker of the two.  But let's go back to my illustration about the better runner.  Admitting that there were faster runners than Jesus does nothing to diminish is humanity.  Would it diminish Jesus' humanity to admit that Paul (or anyone for that matter) may have been a more orderly thinker?  Doing something in a less orderly manner does not mean that it is wrong (and certainly not sinful).  The question has got me thinking.

Your thoughts?    

Friday, January 8, 2010

In Store Now - The Dead Sea Scrolls

From B&H Publishing we have a very attractive book on the Dead Sea Scrolls.  It is printed on glossy paper with full color.  This is part of a series done by B&H Publishing called the Holman QuickSource.  The size of the books are 9 1/4 x 5 which I've never really liked since, like mass market, I'm constantly fighting with the book to read the text which is closest to the middle.  But some books are worth the fight and this appears to be one of them. 

The author, Craig Evans, is an authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls and is the Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity School. 

Topics include:

Who wrote the scrolls?
Do the scrolls undermine the Christian faith?
Did the New Testament borrow from the scrolls?
The science of dating the scrolls.
Restoring and preserving the scrolls.
Historical groups and people name in the scrolls.
Who were the Essenes?
How did the Essenes interpret Scripture?
How did the Essenes relate to other Jews?
Were Jesus and John the Baptist Essenes?
Archaeology of Qumran and the Scrolls.

I was surprised to read that "the DSS [abbreviation for Dead Sea Scrolls] were discovered at least four times: twice long ago and twice again in modern times."  (30-31)  In chapter 11 Evans lists all 11 Qumran caves and the contents of each.  He also explains how the scrolls are referred to (i.e., 4Q521 means document 521 from Cave 4 of Qumran). This will be an excellent guide for the beginner.  Two appendixes round off this work with one listing "Major Scrolls Publications" and the second listing "Major Scrolls Players." 

The book is a paperback with 398 pages and sells for $14.99.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Website Coming Soon

For some time Baker Book House has had two websites.  Both of them had problems; not to mention having two was a problem in itself.  Why two?  Well, one was dedicated almost entirely to our used and bargain books and the other was for new product.  For the past year we have had busy brains hard at work coming up with a new, single, website.  The exact date it will go live is still a bit fuzzy but we're looking at the January/February timeframe. I am excited about the possibilities this will offer us as a bookstore.  I'll let you know as soon as it's up and running. For some time I have been linking book titles to the respective publisher of the book.  When the new website is up I will link book titles to it. I'm looking into offering special pricing for books I highlight or review. 

While I'm on the subject of websites.  We are often confused with Baker Publishing Group which is our parent company (Who have a bunch of really cool people working there!).  They have a separate website which is well worth a visit.  Baker Book House was the original name of the publishing company but it was changed, in part, due to the confusion.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In Store Now - A Sword Between Sexes?: C.S. Lewis and the Gender Debates

Hot off the press from Brazos is A Sword Between Sexes?: C. S. Lewis and the Gender Debates by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen.  Those with an interest in the current gender debate will no doubt find this of interest especially if they have an added interest in C. S. Lewis.  From what I can glean it appears Lewis had quite a change in opinion over the years. 

Van Leeuwen states in the introduction: "As early as 1955 he [Lewis] confided to Dorothy L. Sayers that he didn't like 'either ultra masculine or the ultra feminine . . . I prefer people.'  How he journeyed to his 'preference for people' from his earlier endorsement of gender essentialism and gender hierarchy turns out to be a complex and fascinating tale, with ongoing significance for the psychology of gender."

Here are some of the endorsements:

"An eye-opener. For those of us who have been influenced by C. S. Lewis but have distrusted his views on gender, this book provides a welcome and carefully researched account of how Lewis changed his mind."--John Hare, Yale Divinity School

"A keen intellect and a rich academic background are necessary in tackling a substantive study of C. S. Lewis and gender, and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen brings those resources and much more to her work. In this fascinating, careful, and probing examination, Lewis's views of gender and his relationships with women are discussed within their cultural, historical, and theological contexts. This book is wonderfully illuminating and important for C. S. Lewis fans and anyone interested in contemporary discussions of gender."--Christine D. Pohl, professor of social ethics, Asbury Theological Seminary

"In a fascinating chapter about her own relationship to C. S. Lewis, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen lays all her cards on the table. Then she traces Lewis's changing views of gender step by step through his prodigious output of books and letters until the end of his life, considering not only his work, but the man himself, and the way he has been viewed by others. Van Leeuwen's spirit is generous; her prose, wonderfully clear; her arguments, powerful; and her insight, remarkable. Whether you're a scholar, a Lewis fan, or a general reader, you will find yourself turning pages with pleasure."--Jeanne Murray Walker, professor of English, University of Delaware

Van Leeuwen is professor of psychology and philosophy at Eastern University. The book is a paperback with 264 pages and sells for $19.99.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Around the Web

I'm borrowing this idea from Jeff at the Scripture Zealot.  From time to time he has a post entitled "Around the Web" (He actually just did one yesterday.  I had this written prior to Sunday but scheduled it for release today.  So he beat me by a day!) where he links various items of interest.  I've always enjoyed these and have wanted to do one myself.  Thanks for the idea Jeff.  I hope you don't mind me plagiarizing your title.  If you'd like I can rename my posts to something different. If I do this half as well as you do I will be happy.  These aren't necessarily new they are just items I've either recently discovered or known about for some time but have not had time to do a post on them. 

At First Things I found an interesting, and somewhat disturbing, article called "Are Plants Ethical Beings?"  I'm not at all ready to start talking about the rights of broccoli. 

Mike Wittmer reminds us that the intellectual objections of unbelievers are really simply a smokescreen for their unwillingness to submit to the authority of God.  He says, "Sinners know that they are in trouble with God, and so they raise 'technical difficulties' about God to avoid his claims upon their life." 

My friend Paul Adams has been doing a series of reviews on a new release from Zondervan by Philip B. Payne called Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul's LettersTo date he has three entries: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

William Lane Craig has a Reasonable Faith Podcast on "More Questions on the Resurrection." (dated 2010/01/04) In particular, I enjoyed his clarification of the "myth growth rate" and the resurrection.  It is commonly alleged that myths take a loooong time to develop and there was insufficient time for such myths to develop around Christ.  A. N. Sherwin-White is often quoted to support this. The questioner cited the myths that developed around Alexander the Great and noted that it didn't take long at all for those myths to develop.  Craig clarifies that what Sherwin-White actually said, using Herodotus as an example, is "that even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of the oral tradition." (190, emphasis mine.  Page number is to Sherwin-White's book.) The distinction is an important one. 

Scot McKnight has given high praise to Lynn Cochick's new book Women in the World of Earliest Christians from Baker Academic.  He says this "will become the standard for all study of the social location of women in the earliest Christian churches. This is an exceptional book and it will replace Ben Witherington's (now) twenty-some year old study."

Finally, Darrell Bock informs us of the recent Archeological discovery of a house in Nazareth which dates back to the time of Jesus.  You can find the inital report here.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Historical Jesus of the Gospels by Craig S. Keener - Part 2

I finally finished section 2 of Keener’s The Historical Jesus of the Gospels and I couldn’t be more impressed. Clear writing combined with detailed research and a responsible handling of the evidence are the strengths of this volume. Each chapter is replete with notes to primary and secondary sources. (Unfortunately, they are endnotes so you are constantly going back and forth.) Since many of the notes are references to primary literature most can safely be skipped unless you are interested in looking them up.

This second section is devoted to evaluating the Gospels. Keener makes a strong case to show the genre of the Gospels is best seen as biography. Unique to the Gospels is Luke-Acts. This two-volume book is unique because while the first part is obviously biography the book of Acts more appropriately falls into the category of ancient historiography. He quotes Hengel and Schwemer as saying that “those who deny Luke-Acts as acceptable first-century historiography need to read more ancient historiography ‘and less hypercritical and scholastic secondary literature.’” (86) The next two chapters deal with ancient historiography as history and secondly as rhetoric. We learn that the ancients were very concerned with accuracy and the reliability of sources and eyewitnesses. They were not blind to biases and clearly knew the difference between history and fiction. Ancient historians often found fault with others for their inaccuracies and flagrant falsehoods. But historians were not only concerned with accuracy they were also concerned with presentation. Even here we learn that the more rhetorically oriented historians were most clearly seen in their treatment of speeches. The Synoptics do not show signs of this type of history. Keener says they “are sometimes less cohesive, sometimes with more evidence of their sources, and do not develop scenes with elaborate descriptions.” (110) He directly addresses the question of whether the Gospels are distorted by rhetoric and he finds the evidence lacking for such a charge. Luke-Acts would be the closest to this type of genre but even here the evidence is not convincing. Keener then explores how ancient history handled agendas: political, national, moral and theological agendas. But even here the presence of agendas does not preclude accurate history. As he notes, “All other ancient historians and biographers, like many modern ones, had agendas they considered important; they used history to shed light on their own time, no less than did the Gospels. But had the Gospel writers wished to communicate solely later Christian doctrine and not history, they could have readily chosen simpler forms than biography for this purpose.” (122)

In the following two chapters Keener looks at the sources of the Gospels: one chapter explores the written sources and another chapter considers the oral sources. On the former Keener works from what’s known in the field as the “Two-Source Hypothesis.” This view holds that Matthew and Luke used Mark as one source and another commonly termed simply as “Q”. Given the validity of this view we can see how Matthew and Luke used their sources and that gives us an idea of how they may have used sources we don’t have access to. This is a far better assumption than that of many critical scholars who assume that the Gospel writers simply invented material where we can’t check them out. This, says Keener, is “imagination run amuck.” (132) Next we come to the oral sources of the Gospels. Keener looks at oral cultures and the testimony of ancient writers concerning the ability of some exemplary people with impressive memory capabilities. In particular, he examines the rabbinic traditions and early Jewish education habits. He recognizes the legitimate complaint brought by some that “all the rabbinic evidence is later than the first century; but”, he responds, “it is hardly likely that this evidence would be discontinuous with all the other Jewish and Greco-Roman evidence that we do have, especially given the particular focus on it in our later extant sources.” (149-150) And in the endnote he further says that “many also observe that the later rabbinic method hardly arose ex nihilo after 70 CE. (475n.150) The memorization habits of the time period offer good evidence that the oral tradition prior to the written sources would be historically accurate when it came to the “gist” of the story. He quotes E. P. Sanders: “‘The Gospel writers did not wildly invent material,’ though ‘they developed it, shaped it and directed it in the ways they wished.’” (150) Form criticism comes under close scrutiny and he finds that while “scholarship as a whole has become less impressed with some earlier form-critical criteria like the criteria of dissimilarity . . . today it often emphasizes the continuity between Jesus and his Palestinian Jewish environment.” (161)

Keener has built a persuasive case that the Gospels should be viewed as historically reliable when their genre is considered and when compared with similar writings and standards of the day. He has not argued for any special treatment to be offered to them but simply to evaluate them on the same basis as any other document of the time would be treated.

Now having examined the primary sources; the next part of the book is entitled “What We Learn about Jesus from the Best Sources.” I can’t wait to start.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Jesus Prayer - A Review

In the past few years I've had an on-again-off-again interest in Eastern Orthodoxy. My first real exposure to Orthodoxy came when I was writing my Master's Thesis at Trinity on the topic of the Incarnation. I stumbled across a gold mine of Orthodox writers I had never heard of before. But, as I said, my interest was never sustained for long. Among the traditions of the Orthodox is the saying of "The Jesus Prayer." When I saw that one of my favorite Orthodox writers, Frederica Methewes-Green, was writing a book on this prayer my interest was renewed. For those unfamiliar with this prayer it is quite simply “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” (There are variations which she deals with in the book.) The Jesus Prayer: the Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God is divided into two parts: Part One covers some of the history and gives a general overview of the prayer. Chapter two, of part one, is entitled "Terms, Concepts, and Context" but perhaps she should have added "Cautions." There are some in the Orthodox community who believe the Jesus Prayer should not be said by those who are not part of the Orthodox community. She says "some Orthodox elders hold that self-directed use of the Prayer is, in fact, dangerous, potentially leading to delusion, then to possible insanity or demonic possession." (28) She clarifies that the driving concern here is "mostly thinking of people who harbor prideful fantasies of being a certified mystic, able to wield supernatural powers and demonstrably superior to ordinary folks." (29) At first I was put off by this kind of thinking but then realized that here are a people who take their practices seriously and want to discourage the practice of them outside of their most fruitful contexts and purposes. The Jesus Prayer is part of a very organic context and she says that “some Orthodox find it hard to imagine how people could benefit from the Jesus Prayer if they take it out of context. You need all the elements, they would say, including participation in the Orthodox sacraments (called ‘mysteries’ in the East) and acceptance of Orthodox theology.” (27, emphasis hers) Her own thoughts are summed up with “stay humble and you will be safe” and “if you are open and humble, how could it hurt?” (29-30)

She acknowledges in the third chapter that “[y]ou can try to force your mind to keep going over and over those words, like a gerbil on a wheel, but it’s going to get pretty tedious. The hard part is to mean them.” (33, emphasis hers) The point of the prayer is to foster a relationship with God but it is also instrumental in a transformed heart and mind (an important distinction which she helps to flesh out in this chapter.)

The second part of the book is in a Q & A format which reads fairly quickly. The questions cover a wide range of topics from where do I start to how many times (and even how fast) should we say the Jesus Prayer. Frederica wisely avoids creating the impression that there is a single “correct” method of saying the prayer as she shares a wide diversity or practices she has observed by those within Orthodoxy. But she does set some parameters. For example on the question of should we “picture Christ looking at me, or anything like that? Or should I keep looking at an icon of him while I pray” she responds “No, that’s one thing on which the tradition is very firm: do not picture anything. Do not use your imagination.” (68) She notes that this may sound contradictory after she has talked about surrounding yourself with icons but here’s where we need to understand the purpose of icons. She compares icons to a collection of photos of a hero. If you had a chance to meet your hero you wouldn’t take the pictures along and stare at them. “In the Jesus Prayer, we are trying to remain in direct contact with God, and such images can lure us instead into thinking about God.” (68) She tells of her own spiritual father who “found it hard to deflect all the images that meet the eye if praying with eyes open, yet, when he closes his eyes, his mind begins supplying endless quantities of stored images. . . He found that praying with eyes almost shut helped him find a middle way, where images don’t arise.” (69)

Frederica is careful to distinguish this practice from the meditation techniques of religions like Hinduism or Buddhism. While some similarities may exist there are significant differences. One of those is that in Christianity the point of something like self renunciation is not to lose “our sense of personhood and becoming an undifferentiated part of the universe. For Christians, the ultimate reality is interpersonal relationship; personhood is healed and restored, rather than dissolved.” (124)

The further you get into the book the more Orthodox theology is incorporated in the discussion. At times there is what I might see, though she may not have intended it this way, as a “soft” apologetic for Orthodoxy. For example, when answering a question about can’t we dismiss the whole concept of the fear of God she responds, “. . . if you pick and choose from the spiritual treasury whatever seems most appealing, your highest authority is your own opinion—your personal tastes and preferences. And those are self-reinforcing; your personal inclinations will go right on confirming you to the way you already are. . . My advice is to accept the ancient spiritual disciplines as a complete, integrated healing program, rather than picking and choosing to fit. Some kind of wisdom has been worked out in them over the centuries. This net wisdom may well be smarter than you are, because your experience is limited, and also conditioned by your surrounding culture.” (89) Unless I’m misreading her here I think she is saying you either take the complete package or don’t bother with it at all.

The book ends with a bibliography for further reading and “Notes” which are never footnoted through the book so I didn’t realize they were there till I finished the book. It does give the page number and a phrase or word to which the note refers.

So, do I say the Jesus Prayer and risk going insane? On the one hand I think Frederica is encouraging its use as long as we remain humble but on the other hand it would seem that she would encourage a conversion to Orthodoxy in order to truly appreciate what the Jesus Prayer is all about. Whereas in the beginning I thought I would gain something for my spiritual growth there were enough cautions and a just a glimpse of the “full package” required to fully benefit from this practice that I’m left not knowing what to do. If you want to know more about the Jesus Prayer and why it holds such a treasured place in the heart of Orthodoxy then read this book. If you want to say the prayer—well, I won’t even venture any advice on that.

The book is a paperback with 181 pages and sells for $16.99. It is published by Paraclete Press.