theology

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Book Review: “Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community” by James M. Todd III

sats-toddJames M. Todd III’s Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community argues that Christians are no longer subject to any of the laws of the Old Covenant/Old Testament. It’s an extraordinary claim, particularly if one has not been exposed to such a position before, but one that Christians must engage with in order to have a full view of the proper relation between the Law and their lives.

Todd’s exposition of three primary views related to OT Laws is particularly interesting. There are, he argues, three primary ways of interacting with OT legislation: “Moral Law” Christians, who view the laws as binding but break them into moral, ceremonial, and civil, asserting only moral laws ought to be followed; “Ten Commandment” Christians who use the Ten Commandments for the baseline of morality, and “No-Old-Law”Christians who believe that Christians are not under authority of OT laws in any way. He highlights strengths and weaknesses of each position. Moral Law Christians run into the problem that the threefold division of OT Law is nowhere explicitly taught in Scripture, and that, moreover, in the ANE (ancient Near East) there would have been very little understanding of or motivation to make such religious/civil distinctions as is required by this division. Ten Commandment Christians struggle to explain how to deal with the Sabbath, among other issues. No-Old-Law Christians must explain how it avoids antinomianism as well as the problem of dealing with the Hebrew Scriptures as Christian Scripture. Though brief, this discussion alone was worth reading the book for.

The “No-Old-Law” position is defended by Todd largely through exegetical arguments, showing that the Law was viewed holistically, that it was intended to govern the entire covenant community of Israel, and ultimately that the new community in Christ–the church–is not bound by the same legislation. His argument is more detailed, of course, but those are the basics. He backs it up by looking deeply at the covenant community in the Hebrew Scriptures, noting some difficulties with other perspectives, and finally arguing his own position doesn’t just dismiss the Old Testament.

I was somewhat surprised to see Lutherans grouped in the “No-Old-Law” category, but saw that Todd put Lutherans there due to the notion of the proper distinction of Law and Gospel. However, when he continued to discuss the Law/Gospel distinctiveness and those who hold to that position, I believe he somewhat misrepresented the Lutheran position, particularly when he wrote that such a position “results in a negative view toward law in general; law exists simply for convicting sinners of their sin” (42). I’m not sure why Todd would conclude this is a negative view of the law. Lutherans teach that the Law always condemns; the Gospel always saves. This doesn’t mean the Law is negative, but rather that it has the extremely powerful and important place of bringing sinners to repentance and rightness with God! Though this was an extremely minor point in the book–and, to his credit, Todd noted the Third Use of the Law in Lutheranism would potentially get around this problem in a footnote–I would have liked to see a more balanced perspective on the Lutheran view here.

Another difficulty with Todd’s perspective is that, despite his objections that some “No-Old-Law” perspectives take a negative view of the law, his own perspective effectively dismisses it entirely. Indeed, he dedicates a whole chapter to piecing back together the importance of the Law for Christian readers, not by offering a holistic approach to the Law (as with the threefold distinction view), nor by a separation of spheres (as with the Lutheran perspective). Rather, his own approach is to note that the Law in the Hebrew Scriptures provides important historical and cultural context for much of the narrative related to the Old Covenant community. Thus, the Law is important for Christians in order to understand the Bible fully. Such a view has initial appeal, but ultimately I’m not convinced it stands up to scrutiny. It is the case that understanding the laws concerning Sabbath and the like will provide readers with a better comprehension of the narratives, but Todd would be hard pressed to make such a case for every law in the Hebrew Scriptures. How, in fact, does knowing the prohibitions about eating shellfish really impact one’s reading of any narrative in the Hebrew Bible? I know of nothing other than the possibility of a very oblique approach to just knowing the general cultural background. But if that’s the case, then Todd’s view of Law and Gospel cannot actually account for the importance of at least some portions of Scripture. This objection, to me, is enough reason to reject Todd’s development of his perspective in favor of something like the Lutheran perspective (though the latter does need fuller development regarding exactly what is meant by “Law” and obedience to it/condemnation from it).

One final point I’d like to raise is that the book isn’t quite as focused as one might expect. A few of the chapters could have been appendices (particularly the last chapter), and at least two appendices could have been part of the main text (especially the one in which Todd answers some arguments against his position). There are many objections that could be raised to Todd’s view (not including those I’ve already raised), and it would have been nice to see an even larger positive case with more objections answered.

Sinai and the Saints is an incredibly interesting book. Though I found myself thinking his perspective has a few fundamental flaws, I think that there are many challenges he raises to competing perspectives that must be met. Moreover, with some more development, his own perspective could potentially get around some of the flaws I’ve highlighted here. Regardless of what one thinks, Sinai and the Saints is an essential read for Christians wanting to learn exactly what it is they are to do regarding the Law in the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s fascinating, engaging, and challenging, even if flawed.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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“Manual of Christian Evidences” – Fisher Chapter 5 Guided Reading

All rights reserved.

All rights reserved.

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.

Chapter 5

Fisher writes:

The character of Jesus as it is depicted in the Evangelists is one of unequalled excellence… It unites.. in perfect harmony, the qualities of the saint and of the philanthropist… The world beholds in Jesus its ideal of goodness. (32-33)

Fisher’s argument, as he develops it, is that the idea of Jesus’ character comes through a great number of anecdotes and stories from several different sources, yet remains consistent. The consistency of this portrayal gives credence to the notion that it is accurate, and that lends itself to the idea that Christianity must be of divine origin, for “there is no reason to think that any other faultless and perfect character has ever existed” (35). Moreover, the sinlessness of Jesus “gives credibility to his testimony respecting himself” (ibid).

I think this is a pretty intriguing argument from Fisher- that Jesus’ character points to the truth of Christianity. It is worth noting, I think, some aspects of this argument. First, it does rely upon an appeal to the notion that Jesus’ character is, indeed, impeccable. Such an argument has broad appeal–indeed, to this day almost everyone tries to get Jesus on their “side”, whether that is as a prosperity teacher, a Hindu guru, or something else–but I wonder if it is really possible for us to just assume that it is true.

I have seen some attacks on Christianity from the perspective of Jesus’ comments on various things. It has been alleged that his comments incite divisions in families (i.e. “hate” your family, love Jesus instead) or even provoked violence. How might we offer an effective argument to counter this? Does it just mean we have to work to counter every claim, or can we take a different approach?

Second, Fisher’s argument also relies on the notion that people could not actually invent such a character consistently. It is possible that this is true, but I wonder if the continual publications of epic sagas have undercut this a bit as well. After all, a series like “The Wheel of Time” has consistent characters that persist through a 14-book series, some of which are over a thousand pages on their own. Indeed, the last three books were authored by a different author, so that shows consistency of characters not just within one author but over multiple authors. Does this point against the idea that consistency of character shows Jesus was real?

I think a possible response might be to point to the unity of the moral character of Christ claim with the claim of consistency of character. It may be possible to write consistent characters over quite a bit of time, but is it possible to do so with a character who is without sin and demonstrably moral? If we can answer some of the difficulties with the first point above, this argument gains more traction.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Called by Triune Grace: Divine Rhetoric and the Effectual Call” by Jonathan Hoglund

cbtg-hoglundThe notion of an “effectual call”- the notion that God’s call is itself that which brings about salvation, apart from human action – is theologically controversial and has been at the focus of many intra- and extra-Protestant debates since the Reformation. Jonathan Hoglund in Called by Triune Grace approaches the topic from the notion of divine rhetoric–persuasive communication–and argues that such a perspective helps to make sense of the idea of effectual calling.

Hoglund approaches the issues from a perspective that should be interesting to readers on either side of the debate about effectual call. He spends little time trying to persuade readers that “effectual call” is itself a valid category, instead focusing on the impact of and means for God performing such an effectual call. Ultimately, he settles upon divine rhetoric as this means. Divine rhetoric–not just the Bible itself but in the stories within the Bible, and the Holy Spirit’s working–provides the means by which an effectual call may be issued. Issues of language, speech-act theory, and more are raised and discussed, often with intriguing results.

Throughout the text, he appeals to numerous biblical texts to expand on his points, often highlighting aspects that may be overlooked.

Particularly insightful is Hoglund’s appeal to writers outside specifically conservative Calvinist traditions. Along the way, he engages with Luther, Wesley (briefly), Francis Pieper (Lutheran), Barth, N.T. Wright, and more. It is refreshing to see such engagement, particularly in a topic that tends to be seen by many evangelicals as the sole domain of Calvinists. In fact, the Lutheran tradition and some streams of Anglicanism and others have much to say regarding monergism and the effectual call. Seeing such contributions and thoughts acknowledged and engaged with was great.

If there is a downside to the book, it is that because Hoglund focuses so specifically on the notion of divine rhetoric, it seems he may miss out on other aspects of the effectual call. Though he does acknowledge other perspectives, the highly-focused nature of the book leaves little time for engaging other possibilities.

Called by Triune Grace is a fascinating, deep look at the notion of an effectual call. For those interested in this topic, no matter what their perspective, it comes highly recommended.

The Good

+Provides significant interaction even with thinkers outside the Reformed positions
+Clearly and concisely argued
+Intriguing topic

The Bad

-Perhaps too narrowly focuses the means of the divine call

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Perspicuity of Scripture in the Lutheran Reformers: Reformation 500

785px-Bible_and_Lord's_Cup_and_Bread2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what is hailed by many as the start of the Reformation: Luther’s sharing his 95 Theses. I’ve decided to celebrate my Lutheran Protestant Tradition by highlighting some of the major issues that Luther and the Lutherans raised through the Reformation period. I hope you will join me as we remember the great theological (re)discoveries that were made during this period.

Perspicuity of Scripture in the Lutheran Reformers

Luther himself wrote on perspicuity in no uncertain terms:

[T]hat in Scripture there are some things abstruse, and everything is not plain–this is an idea put about by the ungodly Sophists… I admit… that there are many texts in the Scriptures that are obscure and abstruse, not because of the majesty of their subject matter, but because of our ignorance of their vocabulary and grammar; but these texts in no way hinder a knowledge of al the subject matter of Scripture. (Luther, The Bondage of the Will, 110, cited below)

So far as I know, Luther did not change his stance on the perspicuity of Scripture. As the Reformation continued, however, it became clear that such a stance might not be appropriate regarding the entirety of every declaration of Scripture. Lutheran reformers qualified perspicuity, noting that it applied only to that which pertains to salvation.[1] Heinrich Schmid, in his Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (translated 1875) compiles quotations from the major early Lutheran reformers to outline what Lutherans taught. Regarding perspicuity, Schmid notes:

If the Sacred Scriptures contain everything necessary to salvation, and if they alone contain it, they must necessarily exhibit it so clearly and plainly that it is accessible to the comprehension of every one; hence the attribute of Perspicuity is ascribed to the Sacred Scriptures… But whilst such perspicuity is ascribed to the Sacred Scriptures, it is not meant that every particular that is contianed in them is equally clear and plain to all, but only that all that is necessary to be known in order to salvation is clearly and plainly taught in them… it is also not maintained that the Sacred Scriptures can be understood without the possession of certain prerequisites [such as the language, maturity of judgment, unprejudiced mind, etc.].(Schmid, 87-88, emphasis his)

Schmid’s summary of Lutheran doctrine in the Reformation period sounds different from what Luther taught in The Bondage of the Will, but he shows from direct citations that this is the direction Lutherans moved in regarding perspicuity. To whit, Gerhard:

It is to be observed that when we call the Scriptures perspicuous, we do not mean that every particular expression, anywhere contained in Scripture, is so constituted that at the first glance it must be plainly and fully understood by every one. On the other hand, we confess that certain things are obscurely expressed in Scripture and difficult to be understood… (quoted in Schmid, 89)

Quenstedt:

We do not maintain that all Scripture, in every particular, is clear and perspicuous. For we grant that certain things are met with in the sacred books that are very obscure… not only in respect to the sublimity of their subject-matter, but also as to the utterance of the Holy Spirit… (ibid, 90, Quenstedt goes on to deny that there are doctrines that are so obscure that they “can nowhere be found clearly and explicitly”)

Hollaz:

The perspicuity of Scripture is not absolute, but dependent upon the use of means, inasmuch as, in endeavoring to understand it, the divinely instituted method must be accurately observed… (ibid, 91)

The whole section clarifies and explains the earliest Lutheran teaching regarding perspicuity of Scriptures, and it is clear that it is acknowledged that not every single text is plain, that the guidance of the Holy Spirit, among other things, is required to understand Scripture rightly, and that plain passage of Scripture are to be used to interpret those which seem obscure.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, this shift in perspective on perspicuity happened due to the very real differences on some major doctrines within the Protestant movement itself. If every single statement the Scriptures made about  doctrine were so clear, how could such divisions exist within a movement that was upholding sola scriptura? The answer was that perspicuity applied to that which is essential for salvation, and that shift in perspective can be observed in the writings of the Lutherans listed here.

What applications might this have? The first is that the many attempts by Christians to argue for their own doctrinal perspectives simply by appealing to the perspicuity of Scriptures fails. To argue that someone else denies perspicuity of Scripture because they disagree on certain doctrinal positions is an abuse of the doctrine of perspicuity of Scriptures. It also shows an incapacity to show one’s own point clearly from the Scriptures themselves. A second application is that it acknowledges some of the difficulty in understanding Scripture rightly.

The doctrine of perspicuity is a major aspect of Reformation theology. It should not, however, be over-generalized and abused in the way that it has, unfortunately, often been used.

[1] In researching this post, I noticed that the Wikipedia page on the clarity of Scripture has been edited to suggest without qualification that all Lutherans hold to the notion that “Lutherans hold that the Bible presents all doctrines and commands of the Christian faith clearly. God’s Word is freely accessible to every reader or hearer of ordinary intelligence, without requiring any special education.” The citations provided to show that all Lutherans hold to this teaching are not to any of the early Lutheran reformers, nor are they citations of the Book of Concord; rather, they are references to two sources published by a publishing house of one form of American Lutherans. These sources are from 1934 and 1910, respectively, and not in the Reformation period nor do they, so far as I can tell, speak for all Lutherans. Given the evidence cited above from Quenstedt, Gerhard, and the like, I find it hard to believe such a claim could be substantiated.

Sources

Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will in Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation edited by Rupp and Watson (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1969).

Heinrich Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology– I note the influence that the Reformation period continues to have on many aspects of our lives.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Message of Spiritual Warfare” by Keith Ferdinando

msw-ferdinandoThe Message of Spiritual Warfare by Keith Ferdinando is an exploration of spiritual warfare throughout the Bible. The topic immediately conjures sensational images to mind of demons vying with pitchforks against a frightened mob. Searching the book’s title brings up all sorts of strange books on the topic promising to teach Christians the exact method for fighting their inner and outer demons. In other words, Ferdinando has plunged into a topic that, if he were me, he would have stayed away from. So much disinformation and sensationalism is out there that the task of sorting through it all seems monumental. Ferdinando, however, does this in seemingly the exact right way: by taking readers back to Scripture.

Ferdinando’s work is thoroughly grounded in Scripture. Rather than attempting to deal with the endless iterations of views on demon possession, spiritual warfare, cosmic warfare, and the like, Ferdinando points directly towards what the Bible tells us about this volatile topic. In doing so, he avoids the difficulty of making an overly-bloated work filled with attempts to discredit other positions while also avoiding jumping into the controversy. The book surveys a huge number of passages in no small amount of depth, and its format is such that readers could easily use it either as a reference (looking at individual passages as they come to them in their own reading) or as a work to read through time and again.

Ferdinando’s balanced approach is like a breath of fresh air, particularly as one who has read little on the topic but has still encountered some very strange and unbiblical perspectives. Ferdinando doesn’t do much to urge readers away from sensationalism, rather he expounds on Scripture to show that many prominent views of spiritual warfare are simply mistaken. In one example, he highlights the fact that demon possession in the New Testament is not confronted by violence, by trying to force the demon to speak its name, or by some other ritual; rather, demons are confronted by Jesus’ name and the use of prayer. Full stop. By showing this from the Bible itself, Ferdinando effectively puts to rest the debate. Another instance can be found on page 87 when he writes of demon possession and that it is treated in the New Testament not as a sin to be confessed but rather as something from which people are delivered. These and many other helpful points effectively serve notice to those views of demon possession and spiritual warfare which prey upon people’s fears.

I would note that Ferdinando does allow himself to get sidetracked at times by somewhat unrelated points. For example, at one point he offers a few paragraphs on the nature and extent of eternal punishment, taking as his example the fate of Satan in Revelation. Though this is an interesting topic, it wasn’t terribly related to the theses in his book. This does’t happen often, but when it does it seems to take away from the thrust of the book.

The Message of Spiritual Warfare is an even, thoughtful look at a too-often sensationalized topic. It comes recommended.

The Good

+Even-tempered tone
+Thoroughly grounded in Scripture

The Bad

-Occasionally gets sidetracked by other issues

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Becoming a Pastor Theologian” edited by Todd Wilson and Gerald Hiestand

bpt-wilson-hiestandBecoming a Pastor Theologian edited by Todd Wilson and Gerald Hiestand is a collection of essays centered around the idea that the minister ought also to be engaged with theology. The essays included cover topics centered around “The Identities of the Pastor Theologian,” “The Pastor Theologian in Historical Perspective,” and “The Pastor Theologian and the Bible.”

Highlights include for part 1 Peter Leithart’s essay on integrating theology into the church; for part 2 an essay on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and for part 3 essays on apologetics and “The Female Ecclesial Theologian.” Each of these (and most of the others) has many directly applicable insights. That is the strength of the book: whether an essay is about a specific person (eg. Bonhoeffer) or a broader topic (eg. exegesis), the focus is on putting tools in the reader’s hands as far as applying insights into the job of a pastor theologian.

The text is about 200 pages, and there are 15 essays and an introduction squeezed in, meaning each chapter averages about 12.5 pages. Though this is a decent length for a journal article, it leaves each essay feeling a bit abrupt, particularly given the constant commitment to the central theme. Itself not a bad thing–indeed, commitment to the central theme of “pastor theologian” is a good thing–this means that each author spends at least some time outlining what is meant by pastor theologian, which becomes unnecessary after the introduction. Moreover, a few of the essays do have very little applicable ideas found therein.

Another difficulty is that there is a limited scope as far as ecclesiology is concerned. Indeed, the only mention of “megachurch” is found in a rather stereotypical contrast between a megachurch and the “small local church” as if one is inherently better than the other. Yet it is difficult, biblically, to see how such a potshot could be justified. It’s a minor thing, but I think worth mentioning. Moreover, the chapter on exegesis suffers from a frankly naive view of Scripture. The author asserts that the historical critical approach to the Bible entails “the loss of connection between the doctrines of the church and the text of Scripture, primarily because Scripture is expected… to be grounded historically in its ancient context. This excludes… eternal theological truths” (143, emphasis added). Not only is this demonstrably false, for one could very easily understand a text in an ancient historical context while still saying that it could have an eternal theological truth, but it also shows an astonishing lack of concern for understanding what the text actually means. Though this view is perhaps moderated a bit later in the same essay, the assertion that grounding the meaning of the Bible in its historical context somehow necessitates undermining theology is alarming.

The essay on “The Female Ecclesial Theologian” was good, though I think it could have gone even farther in noting the contributions can make and have made in this field. However, I appreciated the argument that by excluding women’s voices, we have been losing out on the richness and fullness of Christian theology. The author, Laurie L. Norris closes by stating, “May we worthily bear God’s image together in service to the church.” Amen.

Overall, Becoming a Pastor Theologian has a number of valuable insights, but the quality of the essays is uneven. It’s worth the read for those interested in the topic, but it must be done with a critical eye.

The Good

+Diversity of topics
+Strong adherence to central theme
+Much to apply

The Bad

-Uneven quality of essays
-Small space to each topic
-Surprisingly limited scope of ecclesiology

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Book Review: “The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom” by Andrew Abernethy

igk-abernethyAndrew Abernethy’s The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom has a kind of dual purpose: introducing readers to the overarching themes of the Book of Isaiah and to show that Kingdom in particular is central to understanding the Book of Isaiah.

Abernethy acknowledges a number of difficulties with Isaiah, including the difficulty of tying down its historical context, the problem of a “meta-history” of the book and its composition and getting to its final form, and the sheer size of it going against several attempts at a unified meaning. Nevertheless, he takes on that latter task, and on the way manages to deal with the other difficulties, at least in passing.

Abernethy traces the concept of “Kingdom” in Isaiah through five chapters that each focus on one aspect of the Kingdom: God as King now and to come; God as saving King, God as warrior/compassionate king; lead agents of the king; and the people of God’s kingdom. The first three of these provide a broad thematic overview of Isaiah, splitting it into three parts, and the latter two cover each of the three parts related to the thesis.

The book is quite dense despite having a somewhat introductory idea. That is almost certainly because Isaiah itself is so dense that in order to do it justice, Abernethy was forced to introduce a vast amount of information. What makes the book particularly useful is that Abernethy ties Isaiah not just together, but also into the canonical narrative, and this is perhaps most prominent in the God as saving King and people of God’s kingdom sections. As an example, in the section on God as saving king, there is a small (two-page) section on Isaiah 40:1-11 and 52:7-10 in canonical context which contains over a dozen references to other canonical references (this at a glance). Abernethy thus deftly balances reading Isaiah on its own terms with understanding it both in its historical and canonical context. The fact that such a sentence can be written itself speaks highly of the work.

Perhaps the biggest strike against the book is that because it does have a rather basic feeling to it, and because Isaiah is itself so dense, the work feels much longer than it actually is. It stands at 200 pages sans the appendix, but feels much longer simply because so much space is covered, with multitudes of Scriptural references on each page. This makes me question what audience the book was written towards, as beginners will likely feel it is a daunting read, while those who’ve done a good amount of reading on Isaiah already will have picked up on most of the themes contained here. That said, the book can easily serve as a great reference and tool to glance over when one wants to explore the book of Isaiah in more depth. It is about as compact an introduction–while still being useful–as one could expect.

The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom isn’t trying to forge much new ground. Rather, it is a dense survey of a book of the Bible that is packed full of information. Abernethy does readers a service by helping to unpack Isaiah while sticking to broad themes rather than individual debates.

The Good

+Focus on broad themes makes it more readable
+Good reference work for themes in Isaiah
+Highlights many of the more interesting questions about the book of Isaiah

The Bad

-Incredibly dense for such a short read
-May be off-putting to some of the target audience

Book Review: “Evangelism for Non-Evangelists” by Mark R. Teasdale

ene-teasdaleMark Teasdale’s Evangelism for Non-Evangelists is one of those deceptively simple books. Yes, the title basically describes exactly what its contents are, and yes, it is full of information that will make even those who think they know what it means delve more deeply into the topic.

From the get-go, Teasdale undermines the biases readers may have in regards to evangelism. Not only is there no one size fits all approach to evangelism, but that very notion has done serious damage to efforts made by Christians in the past (10-11). Another challenge is lobbed at American evangelicalism, as Teasdale not only notes that evangelism cannot be reduced to contemporary evangelicalism, but also acknowledges that progressive theologians and others are capable of evangelizing and having worthwhile perspectives as well (17-19). These are the kind of often difficult insights Teasdale offers throughout the book, and for that reason alone the book is worth reading.

But the book is much more than a collection of challenges against one’s preconceptions. As the title suggests but does not fully reveal, it is a work of the heart of an evangelist who seeks to teach others to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. This is not an easy task. Evangelism is not merely something that will succeed based on effort, but is Spirit-led. Evangelism takes serious effort on the part of the one wishing to spread the Gospel. Evangelism involves contextualizing not just the teachings of Christianity, but also making sense of why Christianity is important for whatever individual one encounters. In short, evangelism is tough, and more complex than many may realize.

Fear not, however, as Teasdale provides many practical insights to help those interested in evangelizing to learn how to become more effective evangelists, though it will take time. Although a summary of these points will sound overly basic (i.e. “get to know the individual”), Teasdale’s points are presented succinctly but in ways that I think most readers will benefit from.

Evangelism for Non-Evangelists is one of those rare books I can recommend without any reservation. It’s a fast read, but one that demands reflection and re-reading. It has challenges to readers that are on-point without ever being overbearing. It’s a fantastic work that introduces a necessary topic for Christian living.

The Good

+Many practical applications
+Goes beyond American evangelical tradition
+Full of insights into the practice of evangelism

The Bad

-None

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

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SDG.

——

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On “Mary Did You Know?”

virgin mary juan manuel blanesMary did you know that your baby boy will…
Someday walk on water?
Save our sons and daughters?
Give sight to the blind man?
Calm a storm with his hand? [selected lyrics by Mark Lowry]

I’ve seen a surprising amount of comments on this song each Christmas, but it seems like many of the comments have sever tensions built in from specific theological perspectives. One of the comments I saw recently, for example, complained about the backlash against the song and attributed it a bit conspiratorially to Catholicism allegedly making its way into evangelicalism.

Well, I’m a Lutheran, so I’ve found myself on the outside looking in when it comes to many allegedly evangelical discussions (see my posts on Bonhoeffer, for example), but I think that this kind of commentary is, frankly, silly. I decided to write a few quick comments about the song, without any allegations of conspiracy or heterodoxy included.

As you can see from the lyrics, the song is basically a list of rhetorical questions asked of Mary which basically imply that she could not have known just how great and marvelous and powerful Jesus was going to be. Strictly speaking, such an implication is not definitively false. After all, it doesn’t seem to be the case that Mary knew with certainty that Jesus was God, or that some specific miracles would be performed. On the other hand, the song also names some specific things that Mary may very well have known. How? Well, if she was familiar with the Old Testament, there are some passages that would inform her that, yes, she could know the answer to some of these questions. Let’s look at one example:

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. – Isaiah 35:5

Contextually, this verse occurs within an eschatological promise of the blessings that will be brought to God’s chosen people. Now, if Mary was familiar with this, and we can’t definitively say one way or another, and if she interpreted the verses to refer to her own time with the coming Messiah, then it would seem she could say “Yeah, I did know that my baby boy would be curing the blind.” Of course, those are some big ifs. Can we get more specific?

More explicitly, there is the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), the song which Mary sang in praise to God. Here are a few selections:

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… He has performed mighty deeds with his arm… He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.

Here are some much clearer statements made by Mary herself about what she did know. Specifically, she calls God her savior and says mighty deeds have been performed by God and that God has fulfilled the promise to her ancestors. So it seems that Mary at least did know that God was fulfilling the promise of the Messiah and that that would mean, well, salvation, mighty deeds, and mercy.

So Mary, did you know? Well, it seems that in some sense we could pretty easily say yes. She herself says of her unborn child that he is the fulfillment of God’s promises to the people of Israel. Such a fulfillment necessarily included mighty deeds (healing the blind, walking on water, etc.) and the salvation of the people. So you could argue she could answer yes to all of the questions. On the other hand, you could argue that the very specific nature of some of the lyrics (walking on water is one example) would undermine that; after all, she never says that her son will walk on water. So really, the answer to the question “Mary, did you know?” is “Through a mirror, dimly.”

Really Recommended Parallel 12/16/16- Roe vs. Wade, “Anthropoid,” God the Son, and more!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneHello, dear readers! I hope you live somewhere warmer than I do. Anyway, I’ve collected some reading for you to peruse as you warm up inside, preferably with a cup of hot cocoa or some eggnog. The topics this week include the movie “Anthropoid,” Kevin Giles lecturing on the divinity of God the Son, Governor John Kasich taking action against abortion, and a dinosaur tail.

Governor John Kasich Signs Landmark Bill to Challenge Roe– I have seen too many friends criticizing John Kasich for his vetoing of a “heartbeat” bill to end abortions once heartbeats begin, but the courts have continually overturned such bills, meaning that they save no lives. By contrast, Kasich signed a 20 weeks bill that has a much better chance of standing up in court, according to legal experts. Thus, he’s making a move that saves lives now. This is the kind of thing pro-life people ought to be celebrating, not denigrating.

Lessons about Evil: Reflections on the movie “Anthropoid”– The “Anthropoid” operation was an attempt to assassinate “The Man with the Iron Heart,” Reinhard Heydrich. Here is an analysis of that film from a Christian worldview perspective.

How Have Young Earth Creationists Responded to Feathered Dinosaurs?– One of the most startling discoveries in paleontology that I’ve ever read about has been reported recently: the discovery of a dinosaur tail with feathers on it in a piece of amber. How have Young Earth Creationists responded to this and similar discoveries?

Kevin Giles: The ETS Response to Grudem and Ware– Kevin Giles, an expert on historical theology and the Trinity in particular, gave this stirring presentation at the Evangelical Theological Society conference, in which he takes down theology that eternally subordinates the Son. He argues that such doctrines ultimately undermine the unity of the Trinity, and that we ought to work against such teachings.

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