Saturday, February 27, 2010

Coming Soon from Baker Academic - Ephesians

The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT) is one of my favorite New Testament commentary series.  It consistently delivers quality exegesis in an accessbile format.  One of my regular customers came in this week and asked for a recommendation on a commentary on 1 Corinthians.  She's never ever asked me a question like this before so I was tentative in my recommendation but told her I really liked David Garland's 1 Corinthians. I showed her a sample passage out of chapter 13.  It just so happened that that was the chapter she was studying so it was an appropriate choice.  She bought the commentary.  The next day she returned and said she was really enjoying it.  She was so impressed that she bought Grant Osborne's Revelation.

So I'm very excited to tell about the next contribution to the BECNT series: Ephesians by Frank Thielman.  The catalog description follows:
"Noted New Testament scholar Frank Thielman offers a substantive yet accessible commentary on Ephesians in this latest addition to the award-winning BECNT series. With extensive research and thoughtful chapter-by-chapter exegesis, Thielman leads readers through all aspects of the book of Ephesians--sociological, historical, and theological--to help them better understand its meaning and relevance."
"As with all BECNT volumes, Ephesians features the author's detailed interaction with the Greek text. This commentary admirably achieves the dual aims of the series--academic sophistication with pastoral sensitivity and accessibility--making it a useful tool for professors, students, and pastors. The acclaimed user-friendly design includes shaded chapter introductions summarizing the key themes of each thought unit."
New Testament scholar and commentator, Craig Blomberg, says this about the BECNT series:
"In this age of unprecedented proliferation of biblical commentary series, it is an outstanding accomplishment for the Baker Exegetical series consistently to have produced what with only rare exceptions have become the best available commentaries on the Greek text of the New Testament book or books treated."--Craig Blomberg, Denver Journal
Look for it this November (I know for some of you I'm stretching the meaning of coming soon).  It will be hardcover with 592 pages and sell for $44.99.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Just for Laughs!

When I was a kid I loved the Andy Griffith show and especially Barney.  This scene still makes me laugh.  I'll confess I feel like this when trying to show someone how well I memorized a passage of Scripture.  Enjoy!

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Coming Soon from Baker Books - The God Who is There

I saw the fall 2010 catalog for Baker Publishing Group on Tuesday so I'll be sharing some of the forthcoming titles with you over the next several days.  First mention will have to go to a book from D. A. Carson.  The God Who is There: Finding Your Place in God's Story will go to the top of my reading list as soon as it's out.  The catalog description follows:
"It can no longer be assumed that most people--or even most Christians--have a basic understanding of the Bible. Many don't know the difference between the Old and New Testament, and even the more well-known biblical figures are often misunderstood. It is getting harder to talk about Jesus accurately and compellingly because listeners have no proper context with which to understand God's story of redemption."
"In this basic introduction to faith, D. A. Carson takes seekers, new Christians, and small groups through the big story of Scripture. He helps readers to know what they believe and why they believe it. The companion leader's guide helps evangelistic study groups, small groups, and Sunday school classes make the best use of this book in group settings."
Carson is one of those scholars that can write an introduction like this and Christians of all ages can benefit from it.  He invariably combines scholarly accuracy with pastoral wisdom.  One of the things I enjoy most about reading him is that he anticipates so many of my questions.  I'll be reading along and he'll write something like "now don't misunderstand me" or "now some might take this to mean."  He doesn't get all my questions (no writer ever can) but I find it uncanny how often he hits on some question I'm thinking.

Look for it this July.  It will be a paperback with 224 pages and sell for $16.99.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Mizpah Benediction - Keeping it in Context

A common piece of Christian jewelry is the Mizpah pendant. (Google "mizpah pendant" if you don't know what I'm referring to.)  It is usually circular and broken into two pieces. Inscribed on it is the verse from Gen. 31:49 which reads: “The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.” (KJV) The descriptions you read of them say the pendent is a token of friendship. This is a classic example of a verse taken out of its context and because of its placement in another context takes on an entirely different meaning. In this case the verse is presented as a sentiment expressed between two close friends, siblings, couples who will be separated and use this as a prayer for God two watch over them. But as John Walton points out in his commentary on Genesis this is the complete opposite from what it means in the Bible.
“Finally, a word must be said about the ‘Mizpah benediction’ in 31:49. It is not unusual today to hear this intoned by a minister as the benediction to the congregation at the end of a service or even to find it inscribed on wedding rings. In using it this way, we show our misunderstanding of the words. Here in Genesis they express suspicion. Laban does not trust Jacob, and Jacob does not trust Laban. They both agree that they will have no means to keep an eye on one another and prevent mischief-making, so they commend one another to the watchful eye of deity. A paraphrase is, “I don’t trust you out of my sight, but since I can no longer personally hold you accountable, may God do so.” It is hardly the sentiment that one would want on a wedding ring, and although a minister may feel that way about a congregation, it is not in good taste to express it so unequivocally.” (p. 592)
Let’s read the verse in a little more context. Here’s verses 49-50:
"Laban said, "This heap is a witness between you and me today." That is why it was called Galeed. It was also called Mizpah, because he said, "May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me." (TNIV)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Author Bruce Shelley Dies

On Saturday noted church historian and former senior professor of church history and historical theology at Denver seminary died.  His most popular book Church History in Plain Language remains one of our best sellers and is still a favorite of students.  Here's the notice from Denver Seminary.   Our prayers are with his family and friends. 

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ephrem the Syrian and Heretics: Does it Include McLaren?

Our readings today are Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Luke 4:1-13 and Rom. 10:8b-13. It is the first Sunday of Lent.  My primary reading has been from the Ancient Christian Devotional. Each chapter provides a selection from the church fathers on the passages for that day. This week I was struck by an entry from Ephrem the Syrian on the Luke passage. It reads:
“Satan studied only those passages from Scriptures that were convenient to him and omitted those which were harmful to him. The heretics are like this too. They appropriate from Scripture those passages that suit their erroneous teaching and omit those that refute their errors, thereby demonstrative that they are disciples of their master. Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron 4. 8B-C.”
As I begin to read McLaren’s book, A New Kind of Christianity, I’m amazed by the selectivity he has with Scripture. For example, in a footnote he writes:
“My friend Don Golden, coauthor with Rob Bell of Jesus Wants to Save Christians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), puts it like this, reflecting on the story of Hosea: “When God encounters evil, God doesn’t destroy it—God marries it” (personal conversation). By uniting with a people gone astray—loving, entering, incarnating, and remaining faithful to them in spite of their unfaithfulness—God absorbs their evil in God’s greater good, and evil is thus overcome.” (268 n. 10)
Now I’m sure McLaren would respond that we all play this selective game. And it’s true everyone with a theological position has passages which are difficult to deal with. But this kind of thought which takes one incident from one book of the Bible and baptizes it as the sole manner in which God deals with evil when he encounters evil is problematic. Of course if the reviews I’ve read have been correct I know McLaren sees much of the Old Testament has an improper representation of God so he safely dismisses those passages that would upset the Hosea applecart. But I would be curious to know what we are to make of the bulk of chapter two in Hosea which has some awfully harsh language that doesn’t quite mesh with Golden’s description. Speaking of Israel, God says he will “strip her naked,” “kill her with thirst,” have “no mercy” upon her children who are “children of whoredom,” he will “take back my grain” and he will “take away my wool and my flax which were to cover her nakedness” and “no one shall rescue her out of my hand.” It is true that God also speaks of “alluring her” and he will “speak tenderly to her.” It seems, however, that the quote from Golden only focuses on one aspect of God as presented in Hosea. The harsher language is simply ignored or, presumably, explained away as somehow not truly representing the loving character of God.

So, am I calling Golden and McLaren Satan or heretics because of my use of the quote from Ephrem the Syrian? They certainly are not Satan. Are they heretics? That’s another issue. I don’t think I have a firm enough grasp on what constitutes a heretic before I start throwing that label around. It does seem that Ephrem was not afraid to use it and I don’t think we should be either. We should just be clear about what we mean by it before we use it to label people. Clearly for Ephrem it included the selective and limited use of Scripture for the purpose of formulating teaching which was contrary to Scripture and the teaching of the apostles. That much I do see McLaren doing in just the short amount that I’ve read already.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

In Store Now - A New Kind of Christianity

Well, it took a little longer than I thought it would but we finally got our copies in of Brian McLaren's new book A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith.  The reviews that I've read so far have been very critical which doesn't surprise me.  Michael Wittmer did several posts on the book, Kevin DeYoung has provided a PDF of his extensive review and Tim Challies also chimed in with his thoughts.  One amazon reviewer said "a book's excellence lies not in its being right but in its being interesting" (the reviewer was Nathan P. Gilmore who gave it three stars and titled his review "McLaren, on balance, is worth reading").  I'm not sure I would go that far.  A book could be a fascinating read on the subject of physics but if it's not very accurate then I wouldn't say it was in any meaningful sense "excellent."  But for many the notion of something being "accurate" in theology bristles with problems.  Accurate compared to what?  Therein lies part of the problem.  As I read through McLaren, which I plan to start this weekend, I will obviously be reading him through my rose-colored glasses of conservative theology.  I know I'm going to have problems with much of what he says.  But I want to give him a fair hearing and decide for myself.  I'll let you know sometime next week what some of my initial thoughts are.

The book is published by HarperOne.  It is a hardcover with 306 pages and sells for $24.99.

Friday, February 19, 2010

In Store Now - Saints: Lives and Illuminations

With Lent underway many will be looking for first communion gifts. I want to tell you about what may be a perfect gift for such an occasion. Saints: Lives and Illuminations is a beautiful book that features saints from around the world from both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. It was previously published as two children’s books in a larger format. Now it is a handy 5 x 7 and bound on glossy paper with full color illustrations. The introduction gives a brief history of how saints are canonized in the Catholic Church. The book covers seventy-four saints and two “blesseds” (these are people who more or less are one step away from becoming a saint). Two pages are devoted to each person. On one page is a full-color illustration and on the other page is a brief description of that person, who he/she is a patron saint for and his/her feast day. At the end of the book you have a short glossary with terms that may be unfamiliar. The reading level is for 8 and up but this would be equally suitable for an adult who has an interest in the lives of saints.

Let’s look at one example, Thomas Aquinas. Why him? Because he’s the patron saint of booksellers! Did you know his classmates nicknamed him “the dumb ox”? He was called this because of his size (apparently he was a big man) and he was quiet. Thomas was studying philosophy at the University of Paris when he was only fourteen. His wealthy family was not happy with his vow of poverty so they sent his two brothers to kidnap him. He was locked in a tower for a year but escaped with help from his sister. “His greatest work, the Summa Theologica, is the foundation of modern Catholic doctrine. Thomas was canonized in 1323 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1567.” His feast day is January 28. (p. 99)

It is a hardcover from Eerdmans publishing with 72 pages and sells for $15.99. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Hometown Rated One of the Happiest Places in the U.S.

Go figure.  My hometown, Holland, Michigan, was rated one of the happiest places in the U.S.  It actually came in second!  Beating out Honolulu.  In spite of 16% unemployment and some terrible winters we still seem to find some happiness.  How?  In this coverage from Diane Sawyer she attriubutes it to:

1) Religion that reaches out. Holland is known as the "city of churches" numbering 170.  Remember, our population is only 35,000. 

2) 100 volunteer groups.  That's more than than some cities twice its size.

3) Holland was also recently rated the second most generous region in the U.S.  We really do have a very giving heart.

4) The city still places a value on family. 

5) A crime rate that's half the nation's. 

Whatever the reasons I will testify I enjoy living in Holland. 

In Store Now - The Great Theologians

In light of Tuesday's post I thought it would be appropriate to feature this new book from Gerald McDermott. The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide came in this week and from what I’ve read already it is an excellent book. It is a great introduction to some of the theologians of the past. McDermott covers eleven theologians. His choice of these eleven is, he admits, a subjective one. But he says he believes these eleven “have had the most influence on the history of Christian thought.” (13) He also acknowledges that the influence has not always been a good one. He notes that Schleiermacher “caused multitudes to question orthodoxy” but he included him because his “influence has been enormous.” (14) He does say if this book does well he may write another one devoted to some of the figures he has omitted.

The format of the book is a simple one. He begins with a brief biographical sketch. Then he offers some of that theologian’s main themes of that person’s thinking. He then zeros in on one of those themes that is distinctive to that thinker and examines it in some detail. He ends with highlighting several lessons that we can learn from the theologian. He also provides a short selection from the theologian’s writings (roughly 200 – 400 words) and a list of books for further reading. There are also questions at the end of each chapter for reflection and discussion.  This would make an excellent small group study. 

I thoroughly agree with him when he writes:
“Ignoring the great and godly minds of the church—who have been ruminating on God for thousands of years—when we have them at our fingertips through books and even the Internet seems to be a kind of arrogance and presumption. It ignores the biblical reminder that there is wisdom in ‘the multitude of counselors’ (Prov. 11:14 KJV).” (12)
Just for fun I thought I would give you a little quiz from some of the autobiographical details McDermott provides to see if you could guess who they might be. I admit I wouldn't have gotten very many.  Okay, probably none at all.  Answers are at the bottom of the post.  Have fun!

1) His parents were so set against him becoming a Dominican that they hired a prostitute to “blacken his reputation.” He chased her away with a burning brand from a fire.

2) His enemies spread rumors saying he dabbled in magic and accused him of killing a bishop and then cutting off the murdered bishop’s hand for use in special magical rites.

3) This theologian had such a great desire to be a martyr his mother had to hide his clothes in order to prevent him from appearing in public.

4) He loved to relax in a garden and “in defiance of the devil” delighted in flowers, especially roses, as God’s gift.

5) He said that wine is not only “very healthy” but is given to us to make us “merry.” He owned the largest wine cellar in his city.

6) Speaking of wine, this theologian knew enough about different wines that he could prescribe particular varieties to his children when they were sick. He also liked brandy, rum and he and his family were crazy about chocolate.

7) This theologian told the church it did not need to believe in the Trinity, the virgin birth or the second coming of Christ.

The book is a paperback from IVP Academic with 214 pages and sells for $20.00.  Go here for a short Q&A with the author. 

Answers:  1) Thomas Aquinas; 2) Athanasius; 3) Origen; 4) Martin Luther; 5) John Calvin; 6) Jonathan Edwards; 7) Schleiermacher.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Today is Ash Wednesday and the Beginning of Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. For those in the Eastern tradition Great Lent started this past Monday with what is called “Clean Monday.” See the post from the Voice of Stefan for more. I thought I would provide a couple of selections from two books I’ve been reading through in my journey with the liturgical year: The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life by Joan Chittister and Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through the Christian Year by Robert E. Webber.

First this thought from Chittister on Ash Wednesday:
“Ash Wednesday, an echo of the Hebrew Testament’s ancient call to sackcloth and ashes, is a continuing cry across the centuries that life is transient, that change is urgent. We don’t have enough time to waste time of nothingness. We need to repent our dillydallying on the road to God. We need to regret the time we’ve spent playing with dangerous distractions and empty diversions along the way. We need to repent of our senseless excesses and our excursions into sin, our breeches of justice, our failures of honesty, our estrangement from God, our savoring of excess, our absorbing self-gratifications, one infantile addiction, one creature craving another. . . We hear now, as Jesus proclaimed in Galilee, ‘Turn away from sin and believe the good news.’ (Mark 1:15)”
And on the subject of Lent we have this from Webber:
“A specific example of a Lenten discipline for us to adopt and practice is found in St. Ephrem the Syrian, a fourth-century spiritual writer. A Lenten prayer he wrote is to this day prayed in the Eastern Orthodox Church every evening from Monday through Friday during Lent. Here is the text:
O Lord and Master of my life!Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power and idle talk.But give me rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to my servant.Yea, O Lord and King!  Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother; for thou are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
Webber notes four negative concerns:
“Sloth—a laziness that prevents us from choosing a spiritual pilgrimage aimed at overcoming the powers of evil working against us. Faintheartedness—despondency, a negative and pessimistic attitude toward life. Lust of power—the assertion of self as lord of life expressed in the desire to subordinate other people under our power. Idle talk—a negative power of speech that puts others down and uses words in a destructive rather than constructive way.”
There are four positive characteristics:
“Chastity/wholeness—the word is most often used regarding sexuality. But its real meaning is the opposite of sloth and refers to wholeness. Broadly speaking it refers to the recovery of true values in every area of life. Humility—the fruit of wholeness is humility, the victory of God’s truth taking hold in our entire life. The humble person lives by the truth of God and sees life as God has made it and intended it to be. Patience—patience sees the depth of life in all is complexity and does not demand instant changes now, in this moment. Love—the opposite of pride. When wholeness, humility, and patience are worked in us, the result is a person characterized by love. This kind of person is one who can sincerely pray, ‘Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother.’”
He concludes:
“I suggest you memorize this prayer and repeat it frequently during the days of Lent. In the morning meditate on the four powers from which you seek to be delivered—sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. At noon mediate on the four virtues you desire to experience in your life—chastity/wholeness, humility, patience, and love. During each day determine to find a specific situation in which you can exercise one or more of both the negative and positive disciplines. Then in the evening when you pray the prayer again, review the events of the day and identify the way in which you have fulfilled one or another of these spiritual goals. To be most effective this prayer and the form it takes in your life should be coupled with fasting from food (ascetical fast) and the giving of alms (preferably to the poor).” (116)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Brian McLaren - Statements vs. Questions

I found this interview between Brian McLaren and Steven Burke on the subject of McLaren's new book.  I want to focus on a small part of what McLaren says towards the end of the interview.  The segment starts at about 7:53 but this particular quote starts at about 8:13.  He begins by explaining that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg chapel.  These were statements.  From here he explains:

"Statements can help you go from one state to another state. So from the state of being Catholic to the state of being Protestant. I don’t think any of us are interested in creating another state that creates more divisions. That’s why I’m excited about the power of questions. Questions can bring you on a new quest. Now here’s the problem. Statements can bring you to a new state. And in the process they create a lot of debate and sometimes that creates hate. We got plenty of hate and debate. But questions can lead you on a new quest which brings you into conversation which can produce friendship. And in my mind the friendship and the conversation are as important as whatever content, you know, and new ideas that people are exposed to."
This is such a tangled web it's hard to know where to start.  First, for someone who isn't interested in creating another state he's doing just that.  Implicitly he's stating "We need to go from a state of making statements to a state of asking questions."  That's the state he creates and he's attempting to move people to that state which will create divisions.  Second, questions can, and do, create just as much hate and debate as statements do.  McLaren ought to be well aware of that. 

Third, I'm growing tired, and just a bit irritated, at the notion that we're just now starting to ask serious questions.  On the back cover of McLaren's new book it says "What would Christianity look like if we weren't afraid of questions?"  Has anybody read any church history?  Are we seriously going to consider that Origen, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Cyril of Alexandria, Tertullian, Gregory the Great, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Clement of Alexandria, Jerome, Anselm, Athanasius, Augustine, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jacob Arminius, John Hus, John Knox, Blaise Pascal, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, John and Charles Wesley, B. B. Warfield, Karl Barth, C. S. Lewis and thousands of others have been afraid to ask questions?  And these are the ones who stayed within the pale of orthodoxy.  What of those who asked questions and ventured into a more liberal track?:  G. W. F. Hegel, Paul Tillich, Rudolph Bultmann, Soren Kierkegaard, Walter Rauschenbusch, Albert Schweitzer, Thomas Altizer, Jurgen Moltmann, Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, Harry Emerson Fosdick to name only a few.  These men were certainly not afraid to ask questions.  They were unsatisfied with traditional Christianity and moved away from it as a result of asking questions. 

The unfortunate fact is that too many believers have had their questions squelched by well intentioned but poorly trained pastors who not only did not have good answers to the questions but even worse did not know where to direct them to find answers.  The answers they did provide were too often canned and unsatisfying.  When the questions persisted the questioner was often scolded for doubting and questioning the faith.  I'll grant this.  But let's not fool ourselves into thinking the questions haven't already been asked and answered by many, many who have gone before us.   

Finally, friendship and conversation are important.  But the early church fathers saw the serious consequences of heresy on the health of the church and the individual believer.  It was their love for the well-being of the church that prompted them to fight false beliefs.  Beliefs have consequences.  McLaren seems to make conversation in and of itself of equal value regardless of the content.  But a conversation with my doctor about our favorite coffee and my lab results are not equal.  McLaren acknowledges this in this interview because he says too many people in his Q&A sessions want to talk about his view of the atonement rather than the global crisis we are facing.  Why should this bother him if conversation and friendship are just as important as the content?  He should be glad someone wants to converse with him about whatever content is important to them.  I don't intend this to be sarcastic.  I'm just asking some questions.     

UPDATE:  For whatever reason I can't get the full video to show up on this post so I'll just provide the link.  It is  It is the feature called Brian McLaren - Navigating through a New Kind of Christianity.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Coming Soon from B&H Academic - Whosoever Will

I told you I was pretty excited about some of the books coming from B&H Academic and this is certainly one of them.  Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Calvinism promises to be a strong response to five-point Calvinism.  Why am I so excited about a book that purports to critique, and presumably refutes, a position I hold?  Quite simply, unexamined beliefs are not worth holding.  I've been on both sides of the fence on this one.  Going into Moody I was a four-point Calvinist.  Coming out I was more or less holding to only the first and last points.  After attending Trinity I came out a four-point Calvinist again and then a couple of years after that I finally accepted limited atonement (I prefer particular atonement).  I remember someone asked my church history professor, John Woodbridge, what he was and he responded "a weak-kneed Calvinist."  I've been there!  It's been a roller coaster ride to say the least.  The book is edited by David L. Allen and Steve Lemke.  But the contributors are not all Arminians.  In fact one of them is a four-point Calvinist!  You can read an interview with the editors about the book here.  The distinctive of the book is not that it is from an Arminian position as much as it is from a Baptist tradition. (I have Baptist leanings as well so I have a double interest in the book.)  Allen and Lemke state in the interview "This book gathers together in one place a serious, scholarly presentation of the non-Calvinist position that is the majority view within Southern Baptist life." 

Look for it this April.  It will be a paperback with 320 pages and sell for $24.99. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Who Are the Poor in Luke 6?

The readings for today are Jer. 17:1-5; Psalm 1; 1 Cor. 15:12-20 and Luke 6:17-26. Today I want to look at the question of who is Jesus referring to when he mentions the “poor” in Luke 6:20.

Ever since I finished Graham Twelftree’s book People of the Spirit I’ve had a big question mark over this issue. Twelftree referenced an article by Gary Meaders which I’ve also found very helpful. In fact Meaders did his Th.D. dissertation on the topic: “The Poor in Luke’s Gospel.” Previous to reading these authors I thought of the poor as primarily those in a purely economic situation. Twelftree and Meaders beg to differ. Rather, they believe the “poor” refer not to an economic situation, though it may include that, but rather more generally to those who need salvation. I will not rehearse all their reasons but offer here a simple outline. (References are as follows T183 = page 183 of Twelftree’s book; M310 = page 310 of Meader’s article.)

1. “In the three cases where Luke has Jesus describe his ministry to the poor, Isaiah 61:1 is either quoted or echoed (Luke 4:18; 6:20; 7:22). This strongly suggests that Luke’s understanding of the identity of the poor as the focus of Jesus’ ministry would be elucidated through noting how the poor are understood in Isaiah.” The quote is from the third section of Isaiah where the poor “are not a section of society but are the whole community—representing all Israel; the poor are all those who will be saved.” (T183-184; cf. M307-308)

2. Twelftree says that Luke’s use of the “poor” reflects that of Third Isaiah. That is to say the poor are “not some of those to whom Jesus ministers and who receive salvation. Rather the poor represent the entire scope or all recipients of his eschatological ministry. In the parables of humility (14:12-14, esp. 13) and of the great banquet (14:15-24, esp. 21), being poor is also the lead characteristic of all the recipients of salvation in Jesus’ ministry. Also, Lazarus, a representative recipient of salvation, is twice described as poor in the parable (16:20, 22). To put the point the other way around: only the poor are saved. At the same time, to be saved, the rich become poor (19:8; cf. 18:18-25). (T184, emphasis his)

3. Meaders notes the surrounding Lucan context which contains the “theme of conflict, rejection and persecution. This conflict and persecution theme is stated in terms of poor and rich within an eschatological reversal motif.” (M306) “Actual poverty which might exist is merely the attendant circumstance of those who follow Jesus. . . The interpreter cannot go beyond the intended audience in the identification of the poor in Luke 6:20. The poor cannot be the unbelieving hungry of the Third World. Such assertions border on universalism in light of Luke 6:20b.” (M307)

4. Meaders also notes the eschatological reversal motif of the passage. We see these themes in the OT in Psalm 37 and Isaiah 61. “The reversal is often stated in an antithetic formulation, such as rich/poor or wicked/righteous.” (M311) “The language in reversal genre is categorically symbolic. Poor and rich in Luke 6 are first of all categorical. The social situation behind the language is real but not foundational. The close of the sermon in Luke 6:46-49 illustrates this principle well from a different perspective. The houses and their fate are symbolic of one's response to truth.” (M312)

Both provide enough evidence to give serious pause to the idea that the poor is simply referring to the economically impoverished.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Around the Web

Matthew Lee Anderson from First Thoughts has a humorous post on Playing the (a) Theological Mystery Card.  Here's his list of who plays the "mystery card" and on what subject:

•Calvinists: the existence of human responsibility
•Arminians: the existence of divine sovereignty over salvation
•Roman Catholics: the simultaneous presence of Christ’ body in the Eucharist and in Heaven
•Anglo-Catholics: their relationship to the Reformation
•Naturalists: consciousness and the existence of free will
•Eastern Orthodox: I’m pretty sure this is the only card they play with.
•Lutherans: how (and that!) sanctification happens
•Wesleyans: why sanctification doesn’t happen
•Baptists: the working of the Holy Spirit
•Pentecostals: the working of anything else
•Dispensationalists: the Old Testament

Michael Wittmer is doing a series of posts on Brian McLaren's new book A New Kind of Christianity.  Some have complained that his tone is too harsh.  I disagree.  Considering the seriousness of what is at stake he may not be strong enough.  But I think he's found a good balance.  I have not read McLaren's book yet but plan to.  But if half of what Wittmer says is true I am deeply disturbed.  Here's just a sample from his most recent post:

"Brian begins this section by admitting that he has a big problem. It helped his new kind of Christianity to assert that the Bible is our cultural library rather than authoritative constitution, but he still has to wrestle with the fact that this library contains many bloody books. In Brian’s words, he needs a way to deal with the numerous 'violent images, cruel images, [and] un-Christlike images' of God that are found in the Bible."
"Most troubling is the God who appears in the Noah narrative. Brian complains that 'a god who mandates an intentional supernatural disaster leading to unparalleled genocide is hardly worthy of belief, much less worship. How can you ask your children—or nonchurch colleagues and neighbors—to honor a deity so uncreative, overreactive, and utterly capricious regarding life?'"
Tyndale has a new website and is offering an opportunity to win some free books.

Scot McKnight has resolved the mystery of dinosaur extinction

Craig Blomberg has done a review of Philip Payne's book Man and Women, One in Christ to which Payne has responded.  The exchange is very interesting.  Paul Adams continues his own review of Payne's book.

Koinonia is offering another blog tour.  This time it's on the new book Your Church is Too Small by John Armstrong. I've done a few of these already and have really enjoyed them.

Finally, we have Alvin Plantinga providing a modal argument against the current "rage" of viewing human nature in purely materialist terms, that is, that humans are nothing more than their brains or bodies.  Paul Adams featured it on his blog.  I had to watch it a couple of times to clearly understand Plantinga's point. 

Paul Calls Himself an Aborted Fetus

My home computer got a virus last Sunday and since I do 95% of my blog posts from home I was severely hindered from doing little more than post forthcoming or newly arrived titles in the store. I have a couple of things I need to catch up on. One of those was the post I had planned for last Sunday.

The readings for Sunday were Is. 6:1-13; Psalm 138; 1 Cor. 15:1-11 and Luke 5:1-11. I want to look at a verse from 1 Cor. 15. Verse 8 reads from the New American Standard as follows “and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” In my early Christian years I read the New American Standard and so this is how I always remembered this verse. Shortly after Baker Publishing Group acquired the distribution rights for God’s Word translation I was reading this passage and read this “I was like an aborted fetus.” My first reaction was, “Wow, did they ever get that wrong!” At the time I was also reading Garland’s commentary on 1 Corinthians so I checked to see how he translated it. Garland’s translation is “And last of all, as to an aborted fetus, he appeared to me.” (p. 682) What? What about the “untimely birth”? The ESV and the NRSV read “as to one untimely born.” The NIV, HCSB and TNIV translate it as “abnormally born.” NLT translates it as “wrong time.” KJV and NKJV both translate it as “born out of due time.” The NEB reads “though this birth of mine was monstrous.” The closest I found was the Darby translation which reads “and last of all, as to an abortion, he appeared to me also.” I think Darby, Garland and God’s Word may have it right.

Garland observes that “timing” “is not Paul’s concern, and this view is ruled out because an ektroma [the Greek word in question] is always born prematurely, never late. It refers to a fetus expelled from the womb before being fully formed, whether it lives or not.” (692) Some have tied this to God’s calling of Paul which Gal. 1:15 says was done while Paul was still in the womb. Because Paul was a persecutor of the church prior to his conversion this meant that “God’s purpose for him, established in the womb, had ‘miscarried or been aborted.’” (692) Garland says that as attractive as this may be it “remains rather speculative” since we don’t need to go out of the immediate context to find a satisfactory explanation.

Garland explains, “If he [Paul] means that he was an aborted fetus or a stillborn child, which is more likely, then he is referring to his state of wretchedness as an unbeliever and persecutor of the church.” (693) Garland appeals to an essay by Harm W. Hollander and Gijsbert E. Van Der Hout, “The Apostle Paul Calling Himself and Abortion: 1 Cor. 15:8 Within the Context of 1 Cor. 15:8-10.” Hollander and Hout argue that “Paul draws on Jewish usage of the term to stress that the person in question is in a ‘deplorable position,’ whose life is ‘miserable and worthless’ and ‘cannot sink lower.’” Paul was unfit for the task God called him to do. But “God’s grace does not remove this obstacle but overcomes it so that it is clear that God, not the messenger, ‘is responsible for the message.’” “His sufficiency as an apostle is tied to resurrection imagery of being given life. The appearance of the risen Christ to him was a kind of resurrection from the dead. This image fits the theme running through the chapter of God’s power giving life to the dead. Both his unworthiness and his lifelessness are overcome by God’s power.” (693) This interpretation has been contested by some (and here) but I think it has merit and should be seriously considered.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Coming Soon from Eerdmans - New Proofs for the Existence of God

Although I love books on the existence of God the catalog description of this book makes me wonder if I'll be able to understand very much of it.  The minute you start talking about "string theory," "quantum cosmology," and "post-relativistic considerations of time" my head starts to spin.  In spite of that I'm looking forward to seeing this book.  New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy is due out this April.  It will be hardcover with 320 pages and sell for $28.00.  The catalog description follows:

"Contains the largest synthesis of contemporary rational approaches to God’s existence."
"Several books championing agnosticism or atheism have made their way into public consciousness of late. Though often popular, these books ignore the vast majority — if not the entirety — of the considerable evidence for theism that has come to light from physics and philosophy during the last forty years. New Proofs for the Existence of God responds to these incredible omissions by addressing five specific areas of contemporary research."
"An expert in philosophy, metaphysics, ethics, leadership, and other areas, Robert J. Spitzer thoroughly explores the latest discoveries in big bang cosmology and ontology — string theory, quantum cosmology, post-relativistic considerations of time, and more. Considered as a whole, this evidence is capable of grounding reasonable and responsible belief in a super-intelligent, transcendent, creative power that stands at the origins of our universe."
"Spitzer’s New Proofs for the Existence of God will appeal to readers interested in exploring the strongest rational foundation for faith that has come to light in human history. Indeed, this text is the most contemporary, complete, and integrated approach to rational theism currently available."
Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., is founder and president of Magis Institute for Faith and Reason, Irvine, California, former president of Gonzaga University, and host of a popular series on EWTN.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Coming Soon from Eerdmans - The Letter to the Hebrews

The Pillar New Testament Commentary series is one of my favorite commentary series.  Peter T. O'Brien is also one of my favorite commentators.  So when I saw he was coming out with a commentary on Hebrews in the Pillar series I already knew I was going to love it.  D. A. Carson says "It would be difficult to find a more helpful guide than Peter O' Brien or a guide better endowed with his combination of competence and genial wisdom."  It's scheduled for release in March.  It is hardcover with 600 pages and will sell for $50.00. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In Store Now - Chronological Guide to the Bible

One of our best selling study Bibles has been the Chronological Study Bible from Thomas Nelson.  The desire to read the Bible in chonological order has increased dramatically in the past few years.  The problem I've always had with a chronological Bible is people don't recognize the subjective arrangement that comes with any chronological arrangement.  The Chronological Study Bible was a wonderful answer to this problem because the notes would often discuss the various options for placement an event could have. The downside, if you want to call it that, was that it only comes in the New King James Version.  Thomas Nelson now offers all the notes from the Chronological Study Bible in a handy book called Chronological Guide to the Bible: Explore God's Word in Historical Order.  The cover states that it "works with any translation."  I've read through many of these notes and Nelson has done a pretty good job overall with content and presentation.  The book is paperback but printed on glossy paper which enhances its beauty.  It has 226 pages and sells for $24.99. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Studying the Jewishness of Jesus

Over the past several years I’ve seen an increased interest in studying the “Jewishness” of Jesus. I commend and encourage the interest but it has far too many on the popular level who do a sloppy job. I was happy to see the post by Joel Willitts from Euangelion who notes a source which seems to come up often: Ray Vanderlaan (though he is made even more popular by others such as Rob Bell). The common complaint is that too often the points made by these populizers is based on sources from much later than the New Testament. Here’s part of what Willitts wrote:

“Rabbinic literature is very difficult to work with for a number of reasons not least one needs a sophisiticated (sic) methodology for dating the traditions. When I was doing my doctorate I remember working tirelessly for a couple of months in the Rabbinic literature. I came to realized (sic) how foreign a world it was. One must be proficient in the first with biblical, mishnaic and modern Hebrew. Most of the secondary sources and study tools are in modern Hebrew. And those working in the field are almost exclusively Israelis. One notable exception is my friend David Instone Brewer at Tyndale House, Cambridge who is working on a multi-volume project whose acronym is TRENT (Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament). The second volume is to be released next month. This is an essential resource for those interested in using the Rabbis as background for the NT.”
It would be nice to have a popular treatment similar to D. A. Carson's Exegetical Fallacies that focused on these kind of fallacies.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Coming Soon from B&H Academic - Lukan Authoriship of Hebrews

Who wrote the book of Hebrews?  And the nominees are: Paul, Silas, Apollos, Philip, Clement of Rome, Epaphras, Barnabas, Priscilla, Luke and even Mary the mother of Jesus!  Few scholars today believe Paul wrote the book.  One of the few I can think that does espouse Pauline authorship is Robert Reymond in his book Paul Missionary Theologian.  Most of the New Testament scholars I've read simply acknowledge their ignorance and add to the chorus started by Origen and say "Only God knows."

Along comes a new book by David Allen in the New American Commentary Studies in Bible & Theology Series called Lukan Authorship of Hebrews.  Allen will definitely be swimming up stream with this view.  I've never really looked at the subject that close but I'm intrigued by what Allen might have to say.  The catalog description says the book has an endorsement from Paul Ellingworth "who has said Allen's is the best argument for Lukan authorship he has read." 

David L. Allen is dean of the School of Theology, professor of Preaching, and director of the Center of Biblical Preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. 

Watch for it this June.  It will be a hardcover with 400 pages and sell for $24.99. 

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Liturgical Year and Spiritual Formation

Don’t you love it when you read something that describes perfectly what you’ve been thinking or feeling? I’m reading through The Brazos Introduction to Spirituality and the second chapter is on “Exploring Christian Spirituality.” The chapter looks at Christian spirituality as an interdisciplinary exploration. That is to say it looks at “six realms of experience which provide us information about what relationship with God is like.” (39) One of those is personal experience. The author, Evan Howard, is careful to note the strengths and weaknesses of each of these realms. But the following paragraph seemed to express exactly what I’ve been hoping for (and fearful of) in my exploration of the liturgical year.

"Second, don’t be afraid of imitating others, yet be yourself. This may sound like a contradiction, but it’s not. We begin to become ourselves through imitation. This is true of virtually every kind of learning. Apprentice painters often go through seasons of learning to paint ‘like’ Pierre-Auguste Renoir, ‘like’ Rembrandt van Rijn, ‘in the style of’ Vincent van Gogh. Similarly, scholarship is learning to think ‘in the style of’ those whom we incorporate. Yet in time, one can discover one’s self—distinct from all the imitations. A stroke of the brush, an independent idea, and we find ourselves, never wholly independent from those we have imitated yet with a unique contribution to offer. It is the same in the spiritual life. In exploring the spiritual life, we travel down roads others have traveled before. ‘I would like to try on the mantle of the desert elder for a while.’ ‘Just for fun, let’s experiment with Methodist class meetings for one year.’ And so on. Of course, with this kind of exploration, one faces the danger of ‘dabbling,’ where personal spirituality begins to look more like a shopping trip than an authentic relationship with God. There is also the danger of turning personal spiritual formation into an attempt to become the next Francis or Clare of Assisi. But at the same time, exploration of relationship with God needs the freedom to find itself through imitation." (45)
I read this and said, “That’s it!” My journey with liturgical year is my imitation of those in various traditions for which this is such a vital part of their spiritual formation. But I didn’t want to simply “dabble” with it as if it were a new toy. Howard continues with some very helpful advice and a warning.

"Finally, pay attention. If your personal experience is going to be a tool in exploring Christian spirituality, you will have to be aware of what goes on in your relationship with God. Keeping a journal, or some system of notes, may be helpful in order to record the goings on of your spiritual life. You can integrate this information with that gained from the other resources for exploring Christian spirituality. Once again, in the practice of paying attention, another danger arises—namely, that personal spirituality will become an exercise in analysis rather than a delightful, spontaneous relationship with God. Watch out for this! It is easy to discuss all manner of spiritual dynamics, complete with personal illustrations, and all the while avoid the real work of authentic relationship with God." (45) 

Friday, February 5, 2010

John Walton Responds to Vern Poythress

Readers of this blog may recall a review I did of John Walton's book The Lost World of Genesis One.  Theologian Vern Poythress did a review of the book for World magazine.  Walton has now responded to that review.  He says he normally "does not find responses and counter-responses to be fruitful, but Poythress’s review of my book is particularly problematic, and I feel it is important to set the record straight for interested readers."  The Biologos blog has invited Poythress to respond and they say they will publish his response if he would like to.  Walton's final paragraphs are of particular interest:
"All of these comments have reflected on the statements that Poythress actually made. I realize that he had limited space for the review, but it seems quite telling that he did not interact with any of the evidence from the ancient Near Eastern literature, which serves a very significant role in the argument. He also did not deal with all the Hebrew lexical information that was brought to bear to demonstrate the position within the Bible itself. Instead of dealing with the evidence that was presented, he contented himself with saying it did not make logical sense to him. But isn’t that the very point? Ancient ways of thinking are not intuitive to us, nor is their logic transparent. That is why we delve into the literature for evidence. These are serious oversights."
"I have read a few other reviews of the Lost World of Genesis One by scholars who had reservations about my theory. They were balanced, understood my position well, interacted with my ideas and evidence in depth, and offered assessment of aspects of the theory as they raised important questions. These are much appreciated. Dr. Poythress is certainly capable of offering such a review, but this effort fell far short of that helpful ideal. In the process I believe he did a disservice to me, to his readers, and to the discussion."
I was pleased to see my own review listed as suggested reading as a "representative review."  Thanks to my co-worker Jared for bringing Walton's response to my attention. 

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Coming Soon from B&H Academic - The Unquenchable Flame

I met with our B&H Publishing Group rep this week and there several books coming out that I'm interested in seeing. The first one I want to tell you about is the one that will have the most appeal to my immediate market--Grand Rapids.  It is The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves with a forward by Mark Dever.  The catalog description follows:
"Burning pyres, nuns on the run, stirring courage, and comic relief: the Protestant Reformation is a gripping tale, packed with drama. But what motivated the Reformers? And what were they really like?"
"The Unquenchable Flame, a lively, accessible, and fully informative introduction to the Reformation by Michael Reeves, brings to life the movement’s most colorful characters (Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, The Puritans, etc.), examines their ideas, and shows the profound and personal relevance of Reformation thinking for today."
"Chapter titles include "Going Medieval on Religion: The Background to the Reformation," "God's Volcano: Martin Luther," "Soldiers, Sausage, and Revolution: Ulrich Zwingli and the Radical Reformers," "After Darkness, Light: John Calvin," "Burning Passion: The Reformation in Britain," "Reforming the Reformation: The Puritans," and "Is the Reformation Over?""
Michael Reeves is theological advisor for Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF), a charity evangelism in higher education throughout the United Kingdom.  He was previously associate minister at All Souls Church, Langham Place and holds a doctorate in systematic theology from King's College London. 

The book was first published by Inter-Varsity Press of England in 2009.  Look for it this coming April.  It is a paperback with 208 pages and will retail for $14.99. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In Store Now - The Paraclete Psalter

One of my classes when I was at Moody Bible Institue was on the Psalms.  John Frye was my professor and one of the requirements for the class was to read through the book of Psalms six times.  I about fell out of my chair when he told us that.  I started doing the math in my head "Six times in four months that's . . . well, it's just too much."  I did do it and it helped that he encouraged us to use different translations.  I confess I did practice some speed reading skills but when all was said and done I enjoyed it.  This week we received The Paraclete Psalter: A Book of Daily Prayer from Paraclete Press and I was reminded of my Psalms class.   This is a handsomely bound book in imitation black leather which will take you through the Psalms in one month.  But it is much more than just the book of Psalms.  It is also a book of prayers to accompany your reading of the Psalms.  The Psalms are arranged in a thematic order.
"Psalms with references to morning, light, and praise can be found in Lauds; psalms describing evening and the remembrance of God's goodness are mostly found in Vespers.  Retained at the Midday Office are Psalm 119 and the Gradual Psalms (120-34) that have traditionally been chanted at the Little Hours--the shorter prayer services used in some communities--of Terce, Sext, and None.  Alone with Compline these services are prayed each weekday."  (viii)
If you're like me some of this terminology is unfamiliar.  It just so happens I've been reading a book by James F. White called A Brief History of Christian Worship and he has a nice chart of "The Western Monastic Cycle of the Daily Office" which helped me understand some of these terms (the chart is on page 54).

Vespers (at the end of the working day)
Compline (before bedtime)
Nocturns or Vigils or Matins (during the middle of the night)
Lauds (at daybreak)
Prime (shortly thereafter)
Terce (during the middle of the morning)
Sext (at noon)
None (during middle of the afternoon)   
I thought it odd that it would start with Saturday Vespers.  "Shouldn't it start with a morning reading," I thought?  The introduction explains that the only reading for "Saturday is Vespers, which is actually a First Vespers to prepare for Sunday's worship."  I have so much to learn from this rich tradition. 

The book is imitation leather with 336 pages and sells for $24.99.  It uses the NIV for its translation of the Psalms. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Baker Book House 2010 Forum: Spiritual Formation

I finally decided on the topic of this year's forum--spiritual formation.  We have had success with our past forums.  Our first forum was on the emerging church, the second was on hip-hop culture and the church, the third was on The Shack, and last year's was on John Calvin.  Besides the topic nothing else has really been settled so I have a lot of work ahead of me.  In preparation for the forum I will be reading The Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality by Evan B. Howard.  The literature on the subject of Christian Spirituality is enormous and growing.  Howard has done a masterful job of making the fruit of that corpus accessible to the average reader.  I've only read portions of it in the past but look forward to reading it from beginning to the end.  But not only is the content of this book excellent its presentation is exemplary.  Each chapter begins with an extensive outline and lays out its objectives.  It is filled with sidebars, focus boxes, charts, pictures and cartoons (Yes, cartoons.  One of my favorites shows a group of people sitting and one of them says, "Well, I haven't actually died to sin, but I did feel kind of faint once!")  You'll also find an extensive glossary, exercises, chapter summaries and lists of works for "Looking Further."   The book gleans from the three major traditions of Christianity: Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox.

Howard wrote an article for Christianity Today back in 2002 which is still worth reading.  It is called "Three Temptations of Spiritual Formation".  He is the director of the Spirituality Shoppe: An Evangelical Center for the Study of Christian Spirituality, based in Montrose, Colorado

I'll keep you posted as details for the forum come together.  From time to time I'll fill you in on my progress through Howard's book. 

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Making of an Atheist - A Review 1

Before I started this book I thought I was going to get a smattering of Bible verses that were referenced but not seriously treated. Instead the emphasis would be on psychology. Perhaps I would also find a few arguments in response to the New Atheists. I was wrong. James Spiegel is very serious about what Scripture says but finds some intriguing evidence from psychology which offers additional support for what he thinks makes an atheist.

In the introduction we are greeted with some of the main characters of the New Atheism: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Thomas Nagel. Spiegel explains that there is really nothing new from these chaps “except the degree of bombast in their claims.” (10) The reason that this is nothing new is because the biblical writers have long recognized that some reject the existence of God. Psalm 19:1 says “the fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” The New Testament is equally clear. Paul says in Romans 1 that creation is a witness to God’s invisible qualities “so that men are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:20) Spiegel says the purpose of his book is “not to defend the Christian worldview nor even theism” but rather “to present a Christian account of atheism.” (14) Spiegel introduces us to Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga and a Philosopher of Science Thomas Kuhn. He briefly notes that Plantinga argues that our cognitive faculties are designed to function in a certain manner. However those faculties do not always function properly because of sin. “Immorality hampers our ability to reason correctly, especially regarding moral and spiritual matters. And the more a person indulges in sin, the more his or her mind is corrupted, sometimes event to the point that one’s awareness of God is deadened. If Plantinga is right, atheism is a product of malfunctioning cognitive faculties.” (14-15) Thomas Kuhn’s landmark book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions demonstrates that “scientists do not observe the world objectively but always interpret what they see in light of the scientific theory to which they are committed.” (15) If Kuhn is right, Spiegel says, “then it is no surprise that hard-core atheists should be so confident in their disbelief. Their atheistic paradigm ensured that they see no trace of God, despite the fact that His fingerprints can be seen everywhere in the world.” (16)

Chapter one addresses atheistic arguments, errors, and insights. Spiegel cites two main arguments that are advanced for atheism: the problem of evil and the scientific irrelevancy of God. The former has been sufficiently answered by either the free will defense or the greater good defense. But, Spiegel contends, the problem of evil can never disprove the existence of God. At best it can only “undermine certain beliefs about the nature of God. . . evil should prompt us to reconsider what kind of God exists, not whether God exists. To give up belief in a world creator because of the existence of evil is a blatant non sequitur.” (26-27, emphasis his) Furthermore, atheists have “no grounds to call anything evil.” They have no basis for any sense of goodness apart from God’s existence. The natural end of atheism leads only to pessimism, bleakness and despair. Hardly a life worth enjoying. But Spiegel says the atheists have made some accurate complaints. Among those are the problem of hypocrisy, moral complacency, and the “pretext for shoddy scientific methodology.” (35-36) Spiegel adds two of his own observations; namely the tendency of Christians to divide over peripheral doctrinal matters and the all too common “refusal to admit mystery when it is clearly appropriate to do so.” (36-37) But even these “correct” observations do “not constitute reasonable objections to theistic belief per se” rather these “arguments accuse us of theistic malpractice.” (38 emphasis his)

Chapter two starts with the conversion of the prominent atheist Anthony Flew to deism (note: the whole issue of Flew's "conversion" is contested by some.). Spiegel outlines the reasons why Flew turned to deism. 1) Why are the laws of nature the way they are? 2) The fact of the universe. And, 3) the question of the origin of life. He notes that each of these categories of evidence for God “is immune to the evolutionary objection.” (48) With all of this evidence for God then why are there atheists? Spiegel does not think the problem is intellectual. There are many smart atheists. This suggests that something else is the cause. Here we find a Biblical diagnosis for atheism. Spiegel notes that Psalm 14:1 says the fool says there is no God. But here “fool” means someone who is “morally deficient.” (51) He continues on to the New Testament with Romans 1. We saw both of these texts in the Introduction. Here Spiegel spends a little more time fleshing out the meaning of the passages and the defense of his interpretation. He also provides anecdotal evidence from his own personal life of friends who have changed their mind about God. He says that “invariably, their ‘change of mind’ about God was precipitated by some personal rebellion.” (55) The biblical evidence suggests that the arguments of atheists are “an intellectual ruse masking their rebellion.” (56)

In a future post I’ll look at the second half of the book where Spiegel deals with the causes and obstinacy of atheism as well as the blessings of theism. It is here that psychological plays a major role in Spiegel’s thesis.