Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolutions - Jonathan Edwards Style

With the beginning of 2008 tomorrow, many will begin work on their New Year's resolutions. While statistics suggest that less than 50% of resolutions survive January, the practice itself is not without some value. Although he did not write them in connection with the beginning of a new year, Jonathan Edwards wrote a list of 70 resolutions between 1722-23 (at the ripe age of 19-20!) that he wanted to shape his life. Some of the highlights include the following (the entire list can be viewed here:) :
1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God' s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever.

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age, say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer.

56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.
But in reading through this list it is crucial to recognize how he introduces them:
"Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God's help, I do humbly entreat him, by his grace, to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ's sake."
Whether we make resolutions or not, may we recognize the necessity of divine grace and the empowerment of the Spirit in all that we do for his glory in 2008.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The New Perspective on Paul - Part 3

Today we resume our series on the New Perspective on Paul. The third basic premise is this:
Paul's problem with Judaism and the Mosaic Law is not legalism, but something else.

In the so-called traditional Reformation understanding of Paul, his problem with Judaism and the Mosaic Law is that it was used as a means of earning favor before God. But in light of the NPP's contention that first-century Judaism was not legalistic, they conclude that Paul's problem with the Mosaic Law and Judaism must rest somewhere else. But that is where the agreement ends, for in determining what that "something else" is the various NPP advocates part ways. E.P. Sanders, for example, argues that
What is wrong with the law, and thus with Judaism, is that it does not provide for God's ultimate purpose, that of saving the entire world through faith in Christ, and without the privilege accorded to the Jews through the promises, the covenants, and the law (Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, 155)
In other words, the problem is simply that "Judaism is not Christianity." James D.G. Dunn takes a different view:
The classic Protestant understanding of justification ... has missed or downplayed what was probably the most important aspect of the doctrine for Paul himself ... the fundamental critique of Israel's tendency to nationalist presumption, not to say racial pride." ("The Justice of God," 14)
So for Dunn the issue is the fact that the Mosaic Law excludes non-Jews from its righteousness.


1. The work of NPP scholars has forced a necessary reevaluation of the complex issue of Paul's view of the Mosaic Law. Although none of the NPP proposals are satisfactory, they have brought necessary correction to overly simplistic presentations of Paul's problem with the Mosaic Law.

2. Paul's "problem" with the Mosaic Law in my view is multi-faceted; it involves at least the following components. (a) The Law was not given to provide life but rather to reveal and confine sin. Thus any attempt to use the Law to experience eschatological life is doomed to fail (Gal 3:19-22). (b) The Law's requirement of perfection (Gal 3:10-12) and man's inability to achieve that results in a curse. (c) The Law was given to serve the Abrahamic promise until Christ the promised seed came; once he came the Law was set aside as the means by which God's people interact with Him (Gal 3:15-18).

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Highlights from ETS/IBR/SBL

Sitting in the San Diego airport waiting for my red-eye flight seemed the perfect time to post some reflections on my time at this year's ETS/IBR/SBL conference.

Catching up with old friends & making new ones. To me this is the best part of the respective conferences. It is exciting to see friends from my days at Trinity and Wheaton, whether it be professors I studied under or fellow students who are either still in the program or have begun teaching somewhere. Particularly memorable was our Wheaton Ph.D. program reunion, where graduates and current students huddled together to catch up. But it is also a time to make new friends, and I was encouraged to meet face to face some people whose scholarship or blogs I have followed.

Fruitful conversations with publishers. During the conferences just about every publisher in biblical, religious, or theological studies is present. I had several promising conversations with different publishers regarding some different projects I am considering or already at work on. I don't have any announcements to make yet, but I am hopeful that there may be in the near future.

Lots of cheap books. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, every publisher you can think of is there (and some you probably have never heard of). They all offer discounts on their books, ranging from 20-60% off retail. One of the first things you learn about these conferences is to bring an extra bag for your purchases. And making a list in advance helps mitigate impulse buying :)

Interesting papers. By now you may be wondering, "Isn't the purpose of the conference to attend and/or present academic papers on your area(s) of expertise?" Yes, and in the midst of the previous highlights I did manage to attend a few interesting papers. Most noteworthy were those by Doug Moo, John Piper, David Wells, and the session on the Paul & Scripture seminar.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Off to ETS, IBR, & SBL

Today I leave for San Diego to attend three successive conferences. The first is that of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), which is the largest evangelical association for the furthering of biblical and theological scholarship. Immediately after that is the Institute of Biblical Research, of which I am becoming a member this year. The final one is the Society of Biblical Literature, the largest professional association for biblical and religious scholarship. As you might suspect, SBL is the broadest, incorporating just about anyone who teaches Bible or religion, regardless of their own personal beliefs.

While I am looking forward to the warm weather of San Diego, I am disappointed that it appears I will have to miss this year's Ohio State v. Michigan football game :(

If any of you are there, feel free to introduce yourself. Perhaps I'll offer a summary post when I return next week.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The New Perspective on Paul - Part 2

Today we continue in our series on the NPP. Here is the second basic premise I see within the movement:
Justification by faith is not central to Paul's thought; it only arises in the context of the Gentile mission and is concerned with membership in the people of God.
In one sense this claim is not original to the NPP; one can go back as far as Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) for the claim that justification is a "subsidiary crater" on the rim of the main crater, which for Schweitzer was union with Christ. But the rise of the NPP has resulted in a revival of prioritizing of participation with Christ language over the traditional forensic understanding of justification. The downplaying of justification is accomplished further by noting that Paul stresses the doctrine only in Romans and Galatians. In both cases it is connected to the inclusion of the Gentiles within the people of God, leading many NPP to conclude that the primary emphasis of justification is determining who the people of God are and what marks them off from those who are not the people of God.

To summarize: justification is primarily horizontal rather than vertical, sociological rather than theological, corporate rather than individual.


1. The NPP has helpfully corrected what at at times has been a neglect of the corporate and horizontal aspects of justification among some strands of traditional Reformed understandings. This has provoked an appropriate nuancing of justification to capture its fuller ramifications.

2. But as is often the case, in its effort to "correct" a traditional understanding of justification the NPP has swung too far in the other direction. Granted that justification has horizontal and corporate aspects, the question must still be asked as to which of these are primary. I remain persuaded that justification is first and foremost an issue of an individual's standing before God in his court of law. From that foundation there are of course ramifications for how believers relate to one another and how we determine who the people of God are today, but they are just that: ramifications.

3. At its best those who uphold the traditional view of justification have recognized the importance of both forensic (justification) and participatory (union with Christ) categories in Paul's thought. The solution to a perceived over-emphasis on forensic categories is not to re-define or diminish the forensic but to discuss the relationship b/w forensic and participatory categories in Paul's thought.

4. The fact that Paul does not spend significant space outside of Galatians and Romans does not automatically mean it is not central to his thought. We must recall that Paul wrote occasional letters oriented towards specific situations. In those situations where justification was not a pressing issue, it should not be surprising it is not mentioned. Additionally, if a key purpose of Romans is for Paul to introduce himself and his gospel message to a church he did not plant in hopes of enlisting their help with future ministry in Spain, the fact that he spends significant time talking about justification indicates its importance in his thought.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The New Perspective on Paul - Part 1

One of the most important developments in NT scholarship within the past 30 years is the so-called New Perspective on Paul (NPP). For approximately the first 20 years, discussion of this scholarly development was limited to the academy, but within the past ten years elements of the NPP have begun to infiltrate the church as well.

It is always dangerous to attempt to summarize complex scholarly discussions in a short genre like a blogpost. But the volume of literature associated with the subject is so immense that many who want to understand face the daunting task of knowing where to even begin.

What I propose to do here is a series of posts on various aspects of the NPP. I will begin today with the first summary point:
1. First-century Judaism was not a legalistic, merit-based system by which a Jew earned favor before God by obedience to the Law, but was rather predicated on God's gracious election of Israel.
Although he was not the first to argue this, the landmark work was E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977). The book was slightly misnamed, in that Sanders spends over 400 pages on Palestinian Judaism and only 100 pages on Paul. His goal was to compare the "pattern of religion" found in Palestinian Judaism (200 B.C. - 200 A.D.) and that of Paul. By "pattern of religion" Sanders means "how a religion is perceived by its adherents to function" or put another way "how getting in and staying in are understood" (17).

From his survey of the Jewish material, Sanders concludes that the pattern of religion can be best described as covenantal nomism, which he defines as
the view that one’s place in God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing the means of atonement for transgression (75).
The pattern/structure of covenantal nomism is this:
(1) God has chosen Israel and (2) given the law. The law implies both (3) God's promise to maintain the election and (4) the requirement to obey. (5) God rewards obedience and punishes transgression. (6) The law provides for means of atonement, and atonement results in (7) maintenance or re-establishment of the covenantal relationship. (8) All those who are maintained in the covenant by obedience, atonement, and God's mercy belong to the group that will be saved. An important interpretation of the first and last points is that election and ultimately salvation are considered to be by God's mercy rather than human achievement. (422)
The punchline for Sanders is that one "gets in" by God's grace in election and "stays in" through obedience to the Law, including the provisions for atonement. When he compares this to Paul, he finds a similar pattern, only oriented around Christ instead of the Law. (As influential as Sander's reading of Judaism has been, far fewer have followed his reading of Paul).

Within a short time other scholars began to latch on to covenantal nomism as the definitive framework to understand first century Judaism. Today it is the reigning paradigm in NT studies, though there remains a remnant still unpersuaded.

Brief Response:

1. While Sanders has helpfully corrected a dangerous and simplistic view of first-century Judaism, his alternative covenantal nomism is reductionistic. For all the criticism that D.A. Carson has received for the polemical tone of his concluding chapter in Justification and Variegated Nomism (vol. 1), the fact remains that first-century Judaism displayed a variety of ways to understand the relationship between grace and works, getting in and staying, covenant and law, etc. (thus the term "variegated nomism").

2. Carson is also right to note that there is often a gap between what people claim to believe in terms of "getting in" and "staying in" and how the actions of those very same people betray at a practical level a much different belief. A modern day example would be certain strains of fundamentalism that claim to believe that salvation is by grace through faith but by their actions betray a legalistic effort to earn God's favor. Is it really that hard to believe that a similar phenomenon existed in Paul's day?

3. We need to be extremely cautious about thinking that we have a better understanding of first-century Judaism almost 2,000 years removed than Paul did as one who grew up in it. I am all for taking historical background and context seriously, but I get very nervous when we take a hypothetical reconstruction of that historical context that then force us to override the plain sense of the text.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two Web Resources on Paul's Use of Scripture

As some of you know, one of my research specialties is Paul's use of the OT. There are two new web resources related to the subject worth noting.

The first is a blog entitled Paul and Scripture. Although there are not regular posts, the value of this site is that the 2006 papers for the Paul and Scripture seminar of the Society of Biblical Literature are available for free download (scroll down the page). Also available are the abstracts of the papers for this year's conference.

The second is a searchable bibliography of titles related to Paul & Scripture. It is currently in the process of being compiled, so thus far only 342 titles are included. But over time the goal will be to have a bibliography database that is reasonably comprehensive and searchable. When you go to the front page, you will see a list of recently added titles. For the full list, simply click on "Resources --> List" and then on the next page click on "First Creator" then "List" and that will provide you with the entire list of works. Or you can search for specific authors, titles, etc.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pseudepigraphy & Pseudonymity in the NT

In the panel discussion I participated in Tuesday (see post below), the issues of pseudepigraphy and pseudonymity were raised by one of the panelists. Since this is an important issue that challenges the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture, I thought I would post a few thoughts.

1. First, some definitions. Pseudepigraphy ("false superscription") refers to writings that have been falsely attributed to a well-known person. Pseudonymity ("false name") is used synonymously to refer to the same phenomena, though as Carson and Moo point out, only the latter term can be traced back into antiquity. Examples include works like Wisdom of Solomon, 3 Corinthians, Assumption of Moses, Testament of Job, etc.

2. This phenomena encompasses a variety of motives, ranging from outright attempt to deceive to mistaken conclusions by well-meaning people. In other words, some authors intentionally claimed their work was that of someone else to deceive the audience and claim the authority of the falsely named author. At the same time, other works over time came to be associated with a figure with no intention to deceive; these were "honest" mistakes.

3. A distinction must be made between those works that are anonymous and later came to be associated with someone and those that make explicit claims to authorship. For example, the work called "Wisdom of Solomon" never explicitly claims to be written by Solomon (though 7:1-14 & 8:17-9:18 strongly suggest it); by contrast 1 Enoch directly claims to come from Enoch himself. This distinction is important when we come to the NT. It is one thing to note that Hebrews was (wrongly) thought by some in the early church to be written by Paul (it is anonymous); it is quite another to say that Ephesians was not written by Paul (despite its explicit claim).

4. Despite the fact that this was a common practice in the ancient world, there is absolutely no evidence that the early church ever knowingly accepted a pseudonymous document as authoritative. Again the discussion of Carson and Moo is instructive; they point out that even works (such as 3 Corinthians) that were highly regarded in parts of the early church were condemned when it was recognized to be falsely written in the name of Paul.

5. Therefore if any of the documents in the NT are in fact pseudonymous, they were accepted unknowingly. Furthermore, given the dating that many scholars give to "pseudonymous" letters such as Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles (usually late 1st century, well after Paul's death), one must conclude that the recipients knew they were receiving a letter falsely written in the name of Paul. But then at some point this "knowledge" was lost. How does that happen?

6. The direct statements about pseudonymity in 2 Thess 2:1-2; 3:17 are often not fully appreciated. Paul explicitly warns the Thessalonians about being shaken by a letter claiming to be from him, and then concludes by noting that the writing of the postscript in his own hand was a distinguishing mark of his letters. Paul explicitly condemns the writing of a letter in his name. Of course, many critical scholars claim that 2 Thess is itself pseudonymous, which would mean that the real author of the letter was condemning the very practice he was engaging in! Talk about hubris!

7. Claims of pseudonymity, therefore, are usually based largely (if not entirely) on internal matters such as vocabulary, style, theology, etc. But notice how subjective such claims are! Do we really have enough of a body of writing from even Paul to emphatically state that Paul could not have written in a certain way? What about the potential role that a difference in amanuensis (secretary) would make in vocabulary and style. What about the difference in historical circumstances that Paul addresses; wouldn't they make some difference in vocabulary, style, and theology?

8. At the end of the day, claims of pseudonymity are a direct denial of the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture, despite what some may claim. While as evangelicals we must not shy away from critical examination of the NT documents, we must also reject the naturalistic assumptions that frequently drive claims of pseudonymity.

This is but a brief excursion into the subject. If you want further discussion, let me once more direct you to the discussion in of Carson and Moo, pp. 337-350.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Latest from Matthias Media and Beginning with Moses

The latest edition of The Briefing from Matthias Media is now available here. For those not familiar with Matthias Media, it is a wonderful resource for materials usable in the church that are informed by a robust biblical theology.

Also, there are a series of new articles posted at Beginning with Moses worth checking out. Note especially the blurbs about the books by Bauckham and Greidanus.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Religious Studies Symposium

On October 9, Grace College & Seminary is hosting a Religious Studies Symposium on the subject "Exploring the Mystery: The Divine and Human Authorship of the Bible." The Symposium will feature Dr. David Dockery, president of Union University and Dr. Gregory Sterling, professor of NT & Christians Origins at the University of Notre Dame. After their presentations, there will be a panel discussion including Dockery, Sterling, Dr. Larry Mcall (senior pastor of my own church, Christ's Covenant Church), and myself.

More details can be found here. I encourage anyone who is able to attend what looks to a fruitful discussion of an important topic.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mohler on Reading

For those who may not have seen it, Al Mohler has reposted his article on reading and his plan of attack here. Very helpful suggestions!

HT: Justin Taylor

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sermon Audio Available

Last month I preached three consecutive Sundays from Luke 6:37-49. For those interested, the audio is available here. You may have to scroll back a few weeks to find them, but they are there.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Labor Day Reflections on Work

Tomorrow we here in the United States celebrate Labor Day, a holiday originally created in the 1880s to commemorate the efforts of trade and labor organizations. Today, however, the day is largely seen as a final day of vacation that marks the end of the summer. People often celebrate with cookouts or road trips, all of which are great.

But this year Labor Day has provoked me to think about a Biblical view of labor/work. Here in the United States many people regard work as something to be avoided or endured until the next opportunity for recreation. This attitude has resulted in an unbiblical view of retirement as a time to indulge oneself with a life of comfort and leisure. Sadly, such flawed views of work have infiltrated the church, where many have the same view of work that our culture does.

So what then does a biblical understanding of work entail? A blog entry is no place for a fully developed treatment, so all I can offer here are a series of claims about the biblical nature of work that I regard as essential.

1. God created Adam and Eve to work in the Garden (Gen 2:15). Some Christians (whether consciously or unconsciously) have the impression that work is a result of the Fall rather than a part of the created order. But Gen 2:15 makes it clear that God placed Adam in the Garden to "cultivate and keep it" and then created Eve as his helper in the task (Gen 2:18). This work was part of Adam and Eve's mandate to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen 1:28). So work is part of who God has made us to be; it is part of the original created order that God designated as "very good."

2. Adam and Eve's rebellion resulted in work becoming difficult (Gen 3:17-19). God curses the ground as a result of Adam and Eve's rebellion. Suddenly work became difficult as the curse altered the created order. At the risk of repetition, it must be reiterated that work is not the result of the Fall; it is the difficulty of work in a fallen world that is emphasized.

3. God instructs his people to rest from work regularly (Exod 20:8-11). God establishes the pattern of our work by instructing his people to rest regularly from their work so that they may focus particularly on worshiping him. However one understands the Christian's responsibility to keep the Sabbath, we can all agree that God enjoins his people to rest regularly from their work.

4. All work is to be done for the glory of God and the advancement of his kingdom (Gen 1:27-30; Exod 19:5-6; 1 Cor 10:31; Col 3:23). Although I think this is implied at several points in the OT (particularly the kingdom of priests notion), this principle is most clearly seen in the NT. In Gen 1:27-30, the idea that God creates man in his image is at least in part explain by the task he assigns them. This implies that reflecting God's image is central to a biblical view of work. Paul applies this principle to tasks as mundane as eating and drinking in 1 Cor 10:31, while in Col 3:23 he exhorts his readers to do all work as to the Lord. If the ultimate goal of the kingdom is for the glory of the Lord to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14).

5. Christ through his active obedience perfectly accomplished the work the Father gave to him (John 17:4; 19:30). As the Son of God who obeyed where both Adam and Israel failed, Christ did everything his Father commanded. The climax of that work was his sacrificial crucifixion, triumphant resurrection, and glorious ascension that accomplished the redemption of his people and inaugurated his reign.

6. Christ commissioned his followers to work for the advancement of his kingdom until he returns (Matt 28:18-20; John 17:18; 1 Pet 2:9-10). Jesus stressed that he was sending his disciples into the world just as the Father had sent him. After his resurrection Jesus specified the nature of that commission as making disciples, while Peter applies the language of kingdom of priests to believers. These different perspectives all contribute to the reality that Christ commission his followers to work for the advancement of his kingdom in anticipation of his return.

7. In the new heavens and new earth God's people will continue to work (Rev 22:3). In the final chapter of the Bible, John paints a stunning picture of the new heavens and the new earth. One of the lenses he uses is a new Eden. In that new Eden, God's people will serve him. This may come as a shock to some Christians who perceive the eternal state as nothing but recreation. Part of what makes the new heavens and the new earth so beautiful is not the absence of work, but the absence of the curse that makes work difficult. Can you imagine being able to serve the Lord without any hindrance from sin, fatigue, frailty, or anything else that limits our ability to serve God?

I don't claim that this is the last word on a biblical theology of work, but I trust that it may serve as a useful first word. May we all take seriously Paul's words to the Corinthians:
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Cor 15:58)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Introducing the Newest Member of the Harmon Family

You are looking at the latest addition to our family and his namesake. Meet Luther, our 10 1/2 week old Boston Terrier puppy. We have had him now for almost two weeks, and he is already displaying personality characteristics consistent with his namesake. Some have even suggested there is a physical resemblance, but no consensus has emerged.

He is still learning to do his business outside rather than inside, but we are optimistic that eventually he will learn the appropriate place to relieve himself. Although theologically I know that he lacks a sin nature, there are times that my belief is tested!

Luther has already brought much joy into our family and we hope that in God's providence he will grant us many years to enjoy Luther.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Questioning Evangelism

This weekend I read the best book on evangelism that I can remember reading. It is called Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did by Randy Newman. No, Newman is not questioning the practice of evangelism, but rather advocating that we use questions in our efforts to communicate the gospel with others. Drawing on Jesus' own example as well as wisdom from the book of Proverbs, Newman explains the potential of questions to enrich our gospel conversations and effectively move people towards Christ. This is Part 1 of the book.

In part 2, Newman explores a series of common questions that are raised by non-Christians in gospel conversations, including: intolerance, problem of evil, reliability of the Bible, homosexuality, marriage and hypocrisy. His handling of these issues is biblically sound, culturally informed, and presented in an engaging manner.

Part 3 completes the book by dealing with three further issues: compassion for the lost, dealing with anger, and learning when to be silent. Newman also handles these topics with a mixture of grace and truth that reflects the biblical wisdom on these matters.

Randy has served on staff with Campus Crusade for over 20 years and brings this vast experience to the subject. But in addition to these years of experience, Randy brings his Jewish sense of humor to the subject in a manner that makes the book less of a handbook and more of conversation. Indeed, as a personal friend of Randy, as I read the book I found myself thinking, "I can hear Randy saying those very words and even his tone of voice." You will NOT be bored by this book. Particularly noteworthy are the frequent sample "dialogues" throughout the book that give tangible examples of what gospel centered conversations might look like.

But don't just take my word for it; listen to two of the endorsements from the back of the book:

"This book is must reading for those who want to learn how to bring apologetics into evangelism in a biblical and relationally sensitive way" - J.P. Moreland, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

"This book reflects both a deep grasp of biblical theology and a penetrating compassion for people. How very much like the Master himself!" - D.A. Carson, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

I would have endorsed the book, but I wasn't asked :)

But in all seriousness, this is a must read for anyone interested in communicating the gospel in a compelling way.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Kingdom of Priests

Last week during the class "Guiding Principles for the People of God in a Postmodern World" I led a session on "A Kingdom of Priests." What I attempted to do was trace this biblical-theological thread from Genesis to Revelation. The texts I chose to highlight were: Gen 1-2; Exod 19:5-6; Ps 110; Heb 5:1-10; 1 Pet 2:4-10; Rev 20-22. In preparing for this, I came across a helpful description of what it meant for Israel to be a kingdom of priests in Douglas Stuart's commentary on Exodus in the New American Commentary series. Stuart summarizes it in four terms (the terms in parentheses were my attempt to make them all start with "i")

  1. Live (Incarnate)Israel would be an example to the people of other nations, who would see its holy beliefs and actions and be impressed enough to want to know personally the same God the Israelites knew.
  2. Proclaim (Invite)Israel would proclaim the truth of God and invite people from other nations to accept him in faith as shown by confession of belief in him and acceptance of his covenant.
  3. IntercedeIsrael would intercede for the rest of the world by offering acceptable offerings to God (both sacrifices and right behavior) and thus ameliorate the general distance between God and humankind.
  4. Preserve (Inscribe)Israel would keep the promises of God, preserving his word already spoken and recording his word as it was revealed to them so that once the fullness of time had come, anyone in the whole world could promptly benefit from that great body of divinely revealed truth, that is, the Scriptures.
What do you think of this summary? And how does this description relate to the church today? Based on 1 Pet 2:9-10 we would obviously want to argue for some continuity, but are there any discontinuities that must be recognized?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

And Now for Something Entirely Unrelated ...

Today's post is a hiatus from biblical theology and the emerging/emergent church discussion for something much more banal. Here is my question: should I create a Facebook or MySpace account? Several people recently have suggested the need for me to do so, and I have been resistant. But I might be able to be persuaded that one or both would be a good idea.

So, what do you think? For those of you who have such accounts, why do you have them and what benefits and drawbacks do you see with them? For those who do not, why not?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Living the Life of Jesus," the Emerging Church, and Redemptive History

In preparation for a two-day class I am part of teaching next week, I have been doing a lot of reading on the emerging church and the emergent conversation/movement. One of the many books I have read is Emerging Churches, by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger. Using extensive interviews with over 50 leaders within this movement, Gibbs and Bolger attempt to provide a picture of the main values and identifying marks that distinguish it. For those with little or no firsthand exposure to the emerging church, this provides an insider's look.

The margins of my copy of the book are filled with comments; today I will address only one. There is a lot of talk about living the life of Jesus as an extension of the kingdom. But there is no reflection on whether the life of Jesus is in any sense unique within redemptive history? Of course Christians are to imitate Jesus, but is there no distinction between Jesus and his followers? Furthermore, for all the talk of living the life of Jesus, I do not see much discussion of the cross. The fact that in the four gospels each of them spend the most time describing the events of the week before the crucifixion and the events following his resurrection should serve as a clear indication that everything else in Jesus' life must be understood through the lens of the cross and the empty tomb. Without the centrality of the cross, the remainder of Jesus' life and actions simply cannot be understood rightly; at least that is what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell us.

So on the one hand we must remember that within redemptive history Jesus is unique. No one, not even the apostles, "lived the life of Jesus" as the one who perfectly obeys the Father and redeems his people through the cross. I fear that those whom I have read in the emergent movement miss this. But on the other hand we must remember that when Jesus does speak of following him (is this the equivalent to "living the life of Jesus"?) he speaks of the cross, because the cross defines everything he is and does. That too is missing in what I am reading.

So what are your thoughts? Have I been unfair to the emerging church folks when I say this? Before you answer, please know that I am aware of the "five streams" of the movement that Scot MicKnight identifies. I am also aware that Mark Driscoll is an exception to this criticism, but I see Driscoll continually distancing himself from the emerging movement. Besides, one exception does not invalidate the larger observation of the entire movement.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Can One "Live the Gospel"?

In his excellent book Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, Graeme Goldsworthy makes the following assertion (p. 59):
It cannot be stressed too much that to confuse the gospel with certain important things that go hand in hand with it is to invite theological, hermeneutical and spiritual confusion. Such ingredients of preaching and teaching that we might want to link with the gospel would include the need for the gospel (sin and judgment), the means of receiving the benefits of the gospel (faith and repentance), the results or fruit of the gospel (regeneration, conversion, sanctification, glorification) and the results of rejectingit (wrath, judgment, hell). These, however we define and proclaim them, are not in themselves the gospel. If something is not what God did in and through the historical Jesus tow thousand years ago, it is not the gospel. Thus Christians cannot 'live the gospel' as they are often exhorted to do. They can only believe it, proclaim it and seek to live consistently with it. Only Jesus lived (and died) the gospel. It is a once-for-all finished and perfect event done for us by another.
I am profoundly indebted to Goldsworthy for many things, but I must confess to finding myself disagreeing with this statement. I think I understand what Goldsworthy is trying to affirm: the rootedness of the gospel in the actions of Jesus. On that I agree. But can we really say that we do not live the good news of Jesus Christ? Or have I become accustomed to the language of "living the gospel" when in reality the idea is not strictly biblical? Or is Goldsworthy splitting hairs that on one level may be valuable but on other levels are unnecessary?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Fallen Condition Focus

One of the texts that we use in the class I am teaching for Campus Crusade for Christ is Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Preaching. Perhaps the most helpful aspect of the book is his discussion of what he refers to as the Fallen Condition Focus, which he defines as:

"the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or about whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage for God's people to glorify and enjoy him." (p. 50)
Surely some of you have read Chapell's text. What are your thoughts? Do you use the concept of Fallen Condition Focus to shape your preaching? Have you found it helpful?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Gospel Coalition Website Up and Running

The Gospel Coalition website is now up and running. Resources posted there include both the audio and video of the plenary addresses, as well as the final editions of the documents associated with the coalition. Also available are various articles on a variety of theological and ministry topics. I highly recommend that those who were unable to attend this conference take the time to listen/watch these messages and get involved with this significant partnership of gospel-centered churches and leaders.

Monday, June 25, 2007

User Created Modules in Bibleworks 7

One of the many amazing features of Bibleworks 7 is the opportunity for users to create add-on modules that function in ways very similar to modules like Wallace's Greek Grammar, Waltke & O'Connor's Hebrew Syntax, etc. Two Bibleworks aficionados (not officially connected with Bibleworks) have created a website/blog where they post the downloadable files for these add-on modules. That site is

Instructions for installing these modules can be found in the Bibleworks help file in chapter 47. Basically, after downloading the files, you need to copy the unzipped files into the "databases" folder in your Bibleworks 7 folder. Restart Bibleworks (if it is open), and the module should show up under the resources menu.

Depending on the user who created them, these modules have varying levels of funtionality. Many of them will show up in the resource summary tab of the analysis window, indexed to the particular passages mentioned in the resource. And they are always accessible by going to the resources menu as well.

Some of my favorites include the works of Augustine and Chrysostom, the geocoding module in coordination with Google Earth, Greek Grammars by Smyth and Goodwin, Keil & Deilitsch OT Commentary, and the most recent addition - Calvin's OT commentaries.

N.B. Some of the available downloads are not modules, but are instead "versions" that function just like Bible versions in BW7. To install those requires a different set of instructions, available in the BW7 Help File chapter 38.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Getting to Christ from Genesis 16

Yesterday I preached on Genesis 16 at the church my in-laws attend (sorry, no audio available to post). Genesis 16 is the story of Sarai giving her Egyptian maid Hagar to Abram to produce a child, the eventual result of which is the birth of Ishmael. As I have reflected on this text, I thought it would serve as an excellent text to discuss how to connect this passage to the larger storyline of Scripture and get to Christ from here. In preaching it yesterday, I made my own stab at moving from Genesis 16 to Christ, which I may share in the comments. But I want to hear from you. As you look at Genesis 16, how would you make the move from this story to Christ in a way that (1) emerges from Gen 16 itself; (2) does not seem "tacked on"; and (3) connects to the larger biblical storyline?

As I said, I made my own attempt, but before I share what I did (not that I think how I did it is the only or even the "best" way) I'd like others to take a stab at it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Rocky Mountain High, Colorado

Yesterday, after two days, about 1,200 miles of driving, and one desperate roadside stop for my young sons to go to the bathroom, we arrived in Colorado. I am part of a team that teaches a four week course on Biblical Interpretation and Communication for the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ. This will now be the fifth consecutive summer I have taught this class, and I am still persuaded it is one of the most strategic ways I can spend a few weeks of my summer. After all, someone has to suffer for Christ in the mountains of Colorado.

What this means for blogging remains unclear. I am hopeful to be able to resume the 1-2/wk pattern, but as James 4:15 reminds us, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that."

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Saving Righteousness of God

The Saving Righteousness of God
Studies on Paul, Justification and the New Perspective
Paternoster Biblical Monographs-PBM
by Michael F. Bird
Paternoster Press, 2007
xvii + 230 pages, English
Paper, 6 x 9
ISBN: 9781842274651
List Price: $29.99
Your Price: $26.39

This book by Michael F. Bird is the latest on my summer reading list. I'm only about 30% through the book, but this summary paragraph (from pp. 32-33, with my own emphasis added) struck me as thought-provoking:

"In this perspective, pre-Sanders scholarship was correct to identify Jewish particularism as the context of Paul's missionary career and how righteousness is the resolution to Paul's anthropological pessimism concerning the law, flesh, sin and the final judgment. However, it failed to identify exactly how righteousness and justification relates to the problem posed by Jewish particularism. In contrast, much of post-Sanders scholarship correctly identifies and prosecutes the significance of Jewish particularism in relation to Paul's theology of righteousness. Yet the error is frequently made of mistaking the context of justification with its content or purpose. There can be no doubt that justification and righteousness are rooted firmly in the debate concerning the identity of the people of God, but it is wrong to think that the verdict rendered in justification can be reduced to sociological descriptions of group-identity and self-definition. That would evacuate the language of righteousness of its apocalyptic and juridical sense."
To me, that seems to be a a particularly accurate and penetrating of the New Perspective on Paul, or at least many who in some fashion of another identify themselves with this redefinition of justification/righteousness in Paul.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Goldsworthy on the Role of Biblcal Theology in Hermeneutics

From Graeme Goldsworthy's latest book Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, 262:

"The major hermeneutic role of biblical theology is to determine the theological meaning of the parts and the whole. It cannot do this without determining the structural matrix of revelation. It thus helps prevent the short-circuiting of texts and reminds us of the centrality of the gospel as the interpretive norm. Readers short-circuit texts when they ignore the structure of biblical revelation and treat all texts as being essentially on the same level and in the same relationship to the contemporary reader."

Friday, May 25, 2007

Reflections on Attending "The Gospel Coalition"

I returned yesterday from attending The Gospel Coalition Conference at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. For those who were unable to attend, Justin Taylor has provided relatively detailed notes from the main sessions:

Session 1: What is the Gospel (D.A. Carson)

Session 2: Gospel-Centered Ministry (Tim Keller)

Session 3: Passing on the Gospel (Crawford Loritts)

Session 4: What is the Gospel Coalition (D.A. Carson) (These notes were provided by Justin Buzzard, not Justin Taylor)

Session 5: The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth

According to Carson, in about three weeks the Gospel Coalition website ( will be up and running, complete with FREE downloadable video of these main sessions. When it is up and running, I will pass along the word.

Now for my own reflections:

1. The size of the conference (300-400) allowed for terrific interaction with others, and a chance for me to see a number of dear gospel friends. In fact, the opportunity to renew gospel friendships and make new ones is one of the most important benefits of such a conference. After all, for most conferences if you are interested solely in the content you can either download or purchase the audio and listen from the comfort of your home, car, etc. But there is no replacement for renewing gospel friendships and making new ones. These events always renew my vision and excitement for what God is doing around the nation and the world through his people. One of the dangers of ministry can be isolation, in which our horizon of what God is doing is limited to our specific context. Satan often uses this to provoke either pride or despair, depending on how one perceives their local context.

2. Carson helpfully addressed the relationship between The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel. There is a lot of overlap between the two, and they share a similar desire to form broad partnerships around a robust and right understanding of the gospel, not simply a lowest common denominator. The driving question of the Gospel Coalition is ""What can we do to promote a robust, gospel-centered evangelical center in our increasingly diverse country, particularly for the arising generation?" As it stands now, the Gospel Coalition intends on holding a national conference in mid to late April of odd number years; this will compliment the Together for the Gospel conferences that take place the same time of year but on even numbered years.

3. I found Tim Keller's session on gospel-centered ministry particularly helpful. The phrase/concept is thrown around a decent bit, but Keller's message put flesh on those bones. I was especially encouraged to hear him contend for the centrality of proclamation within the larger context of gospel ministry. One of the dangers I perceive in parts of evangelicalism is that in the rush to care for people and live out the gospel that the proclamation of the gospel is lost or ignored. At its heart the gospel is a message to be proclaimed.

4. Piper's message on the new heavens and new earth was a combination of careful preaching of the text with soul-stirring passion for the glories of the realities he was preaching. I am now even more eager for God to consummate his redemptive purposes!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Beale Reviews Hays' Conversion of the Imagination

In the latest issue of JETS (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society; not available online to my knowledge), G.K. Beale reviews (190-94) Richard Hays book The Conversion of the Imagination. Hays' book is in large part of a collection of several previously published essays collected in one volume, with the addition of an introductory chapter of reflecting on his own work. Beale focuses his review on the methodological and hermeneutical issues in the book, some of which I will breifly highlight here.

First, Beale wonders why Hays feels the necessity to use the term "metalepsis" to refer to Paul's practice of citing or alluding to OT texts in such a way that he intends the original context of the OT citation/allusion to be accounted for as well. Beale notes that this claim goes back at least as far as C.H. Dodd.

Second, Beale questions the use of the term "imagination," noting that Paul wanted the conversion of the entire mind, not merely the imagination. He acknowledges that Hays probably includes this "broad" sense of the imagination, but rightly worries that the term "imagination" could be misunderstood in the sense of a "fanciful creation of images that is more in the realm of artful possibilities than of absolute redemptive-historical realities that should shape people's thinking" (191).

Third, Beale affirms Hays' claim that although Paul appears to creatively develop an OT text, it retains essential conceptual links to the original intent of the passage. Such developments are made in light of fulfillment in Christ and the notion of progressive revelation.

Fourth, Beale expresses appreciation for Hays' criteria for detecting scriptural allusions and echoes that have become somewhat of an "industry standard" in the study of the OT in the NT.

Fifth, Beale affirms Hays' contention that Paul's recipients were every bit as sophisticated readers of the Bible as contemporary ones (a claim disputed in NT studies). Beale goes on to qualify this by stating that one must at the same time acknowledge different levels of readers among the recipients; some would have caught the more subtle allusions and echoes on a first read that others may have missed. Beale also rightly recognizes that the repeated reading and teaching of the letters would have allowed even the least biblically literate to recognize the subtle appropriations of Scripture present in the letter.

Sixth, Beale affirms Hays' conclusion that Paul's exegetical practices are sufficiently distinct from his Jewish contemporaries to warrant special investigation. On this point they are in contrast to the conclusion of (among others) Richard Longenecker in his work Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period.

I agree with Beale that for those seeking to further understand how Paul interpreted the OT, Hays' book is a helpful window into that discussion. Like both Beale and me, you may not agree with all of the interpretive decisions he reaches, but your thinking will be stimulated. Who knows, not only your imagination but even your entire way of thinking might be changed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Köstenberger Reviews VanHoozer; VanHoozer Responds

Recently Andreas Köstenberger posted a lengthy review of Kevin Vanhoozer's book The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology. Vanhoozer then wrote a lengthy reply, which Köstenberger posted here.

This exchange is beneficial even for those who have not had time yet to read this particular volume of Vanhoozer.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Monday Morning Meditation - 2 Peter 1:2-4

In the introduction of his second letter, the apostle Peter says,

“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (2 Peter 1:2-4)

Let’s follow the logic here. God’s power has granted to believers everything necessary for life and godliness. In other words, there is no reality we face which we as believers do not have what we need supplied by God's power (the same power that raised Christ from the dead no less!). This divine power is mediated through the knowledge of God, the one who called us by his own glory and excellence (not the techniques of man). By these realities (i.e. everything in 1:2-4), God has granted to us "His precious and magnificent promises." Stop and let that sink in; these promises are a treasure of great value, far greater than anything the world can offer. The purpose of granting these promises is so that we as believer may share in the divine nature, by which I believe Peter means that the Spirit who indwells us causes us to participate in the intra-Trinitarian love and joy that the Godhead has enjoyed from all eternity. This participation is only possible because we have escaped the corruption that is in the world fueled by our sinful desires.

From this rich text I would suggest several brief lines of application:

1. Do we really believe that God has given us EVERYTHING necessary for life and godliness, or merely most of what is necessary? We are all quick to run to the pseudo-wisdom of the world (i.e., psychology, marketing, self-help, etc.) because we often do not believe in the sufficiency of the power of God mediated through his precious and magnificent promises found in his Word.

2. Do we really treasure God promises as precious and magnificent? Do our actions reveal a delight in God and his promises that far outstrips our delight in lesser things?

3. Do we really experience the joy and love that the three persons of the Trinity share with one another on a daily basis? Do we seek this love and joy that the Father has willed, the Son has purchased, and the Spirit applies?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Tomb of Herod the Great Discovered

According to this Fox News story, Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer has discovered the tomb of King Herod (aka "Herod the Great"). The tomb was discovered at a site known as Herodium, a site where Herod built two palaces in the southern Judean desert. (For various pictures from parts of the Herodium previously excavated, click here).

Herod ruled over Judea from 37-4 B.C. (not from 74 B.C. as the Fox News story wrongly indicates). He was a "surrogate king" who answered to Rome. He is best known in the NT for two things. First, he began renovating the temple, a project that started in 20/19 B.C. and continued in some fashion until shortly before the start of the Jewish Revolt in 66 A.D. (cf. John 2:19-20). Second, Herod was the king when Jesus was born and before whom the magi appeared (Matt 2:1-8). He was also the king who ordered the slaughter of all the male children under the age of 2 in Bethlehem in order to try to destroy Jesus (Matt 2:16-18).

Herod's significance for the NT period is also seen in that several of the rulers mentioned are descendants of Herod the Great: Archelaus (Matt 2:22), Philip the Tetrarch (Luke 3:1), Herod Antipas (beheaded John the Baptist; Mark 6:14-29), Herod Agrippa I (executed James brother of John & imprisoned Peter; Acts 12), Agrippa II (Paul appeared before him in Caesarea, Acts 25:13-26:32).

UPDATE: More details are available in this story from the Israeli newspaper HAARETZ.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Communion in the Spirit: The Holy Spirit as the Bond of Union in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards by Robert W. Caldwell III

Communion in the Spirit

Jonathan Edwards is one of the most important and influential evangelicals of the past 300 years, and the number of books written about him, not to mention versions of his own writings, signal that importance. Despite this, comparatively little has been written on JE's pneumatology.

Enter Robert W. Caldwell III. In his dissertation, just recently published (2006) by Paternoster in the series Studies in Evangelical History and Thought, Caldwell explores "what Edwards has to say about spiritual union, the Spirit's work as the bond of union and the degree to which there is continuity between the Spirit's work ad intra and ad extra. In response to this inquiry, Caldwell offers the following thesis:

"In the theology of Jonathan Edwards, the Holy Spirit's activity as the bond of the trinitarian union between the Father and the Son is paradigmatic for all other holy unions in his theology. In the personal union of Christ's two natures, the mystical union believers have with Christ, and the union of fellowship believers have with each other, the Holy Spirit works ad extra in a manner that is patterned after his inner-trinitarian work."
Caldwell then proceeds to make a compelling and convincing case that for JE, all of these unions are not merely mediated by the Holy Spirit bu the communication of the Spirit himself. Written under the supervision of the top notch Edwards scholar, Douglas A. Sweeney, Caldwell serves as a helpful guide through the depths of the subject matter and the complexities of JE's thought.

The book is well-written and does not read like a dissertation. And how many dissertations can you say bring you to moments of awe and near worship to God! Caldwell skillfully blends allowing JE to speak for himself while helping you understand what JE means.

I highly recommend this work as both a guide to Edwards thought and a stimulus to your wonder that God communicates himself to us by the Spirit and draws us into the same bond of union that the Father shares with the Son.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Maintaining Your Greek

Last week I met with my first year Greek class for the final time. By this point they have spent hundreds of hours learning paradigms, memorizing vocabulary, parsing verbs, and many other often mundane and repetitive tasks in an attempt to be able to read and study the NT in its original language. But as many of you know, it doesn't take long over the summer before that knowledge begins seeping out of one's brain.

In light of this, I gave them the following suggestions for maintaining one's Greek over the summer. I have posted them here in the event they may prove helpful to others who have studied Greek at one time but let their knowledge slip away.

1. Put your Greek to use in teaching and preaching. Too often people have an all or nothing approach in which they feel that since they do not have the time to translate an entire passage themselves they cannot use Greek in preparing to teach. But with the help of certain tools one can dip into the passage and look for certain things that may prove helpful in teaching the passage.

2. Set aside time to read from your Greek NT at least once a week. The emphasis here is on reading, translating and occasionally parsing in your head as you go. Spending as little as 20-30 minutes 1-2 times a week can make a huge difference. To make this realistic, I would suggest one of the following two tools. The first is A Reader's Greek New Testament. This version of the NT provides glosses of every word that occurs less than 30 times in the NT, which saves you having to look them up in a lexicon. The second resource is A Grammatical Analysis Greek of the Greek New Testament. This is a handbook that is a companion to your Greek NT. It goes verse by verse and provides glosses for vocabulary as well as help on unusual syntax. Having this next to you while you read from the NT will be very helpful and spare you from leafing through BDAG for glosses.

3. Review your vocabulary. While this is not the most exciting activity, the more vocabulary one remembers the less dependent you are on tools. Furthermore, your speed in reading and comprehending depends in large part on your vocabulary. For those who have Bibleworks, there is an easy way to review vocabulary. Under "Tools" you will see something called "Vocabulary Flashcard Module." With this tool you can load the vocabulary of the NT, sort it by frequency, and have it quiz you. You can even mark words as "learned" so you won't be quizzed again on them.

4. Work through Colossians . I suggest Colossians as a good book to work through by translating because it is not the simplest Greek, but it is not exceedingly difficult either. Plus, it provides exposure to a wide variety of grammar/syntax. A tool that I would highly recommend when doing this is Colossians and Philemon, by Murray Harris. This is a unique book in that Harris works through the text verse by verse but focuses on the grammar and syntax of the Greek. So, for example, for the genitive "Christou" at the end of Col 2:2 Harris lists three possibilities with a discussion of each. This tool is especially helpful for those who have finished a year of Greek but are just now beginning to work with grammar.

5. Check out the blog Hellenisti Ginoskeis: Do you Know Greek? This blog, run by Dan Philips, explores various Greek NT passages and comments on the Greek. Stop by, makes comments, ask questions. Dan would loves being harassed by Philhellenes.

6. Team up with someone else. Beyond providing accountability, it is more enjoyable for most people to work with at least one other person. When I was a Ph.D. student I met with my two pastors and another Ph.D. student to read Greek together most Friday mornings at a coffee shop. This was always one of the highlights of the week, and we often ended up having rich theological discussions based on what we were seeing in the Greek text. I was thrilled to find another group here in Winona Lake that meets every Thursday morning to read Greek one week and Hebrew the next. These times are an invaluable way to maintain and improve one's knowledge of the language.

Given how much time people in seminary spend learning the Biblical languages, it is poor stewardship to let them slip away to the point where one cannot use them.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Old Wine in New Wineskins: Can and Should We Read the OT the Way the NT Authors Did?

Two days ago I had the privilege of giving my "inaugural lecture" here at Grace Theological Seminary, the title of which is the heading for this post. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, as the audience asked good, thought-provoking questions. If you are interested, the audio can be found here.

The short answer to the question I posed was not only should we read the OT the way the NT authors did, but that we must if we are to be faithful to the way that Jesus expects us to read the OT. I then proceeded to look at three key passages: Luke 24:25-32, 44-49; Romans 15:4; 1 Cor 10:11. After examining these passages, I concluded by offering four key assumptions that the NT authors had when they read the OT. They are:

1. Because Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promises in the OT, every part of the OT in some way points forward to Christ and the redemption he accomplished.

Within all its diversity the OT tells an overarching story of God’s plan to redeem a people for himself who proclaim his glory to the ends of the earth.

History is unified by a wise and sovereign plan of God such that the earlier parts are designed to correspond and point to latter points in history.

In light of the first three assumptions, our reading of the OT and our understanding of redemption in Christ must continually reshape each other.
I don't pretend to have made the definitive statement on the subject, and I am well aware that the issues surround the question are complex, but I am convinced that identifying these assumptions of the NT authors is a useful starting point.

I'd welcome any comments or questions you might have.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Why Jesus' Resurrection Matters - 1 Cor 15:1-28

This past weekend I had the privilege of preaching at our church (Christ's Covenant Church, Winona Lake IN) on the resurrection. The title of the message was "Why Jesus' Resurrection Matters," based on 1 Cor 15:1-28. For those interested, the audio can be found here.

Monday, April 09, 2007

366 Days and Counting ...

Yesterday marked the first anniversary of this blog. So after 366 days and over 70 posts, I thought I would mark the occasion with some brief reflections.

I'll begin by stressing how much I have enjoyed becoming acquainted with a wide variety of people from literally around the world. Although we have never met personally, commenters from all over the U.S. as well as folks in Europe, South America and Australia have made contributions along the way. Realistically, without this blog I would not have even made their acquaintance. It is always refreshing to connect with fellow believers around the world.

Second, I have been encouraged at the number of people who are passionate about biblical theology and its place within the church and the academy. In my estimation this is one of the most positive developments within evangelicalism in my (brief) lifetime. To think that this blog could even play a minuscule role in furthering that interest is mind boggling to me.

Third, the challenge to make regular posts has probably exceeded what I originally anticipated. This blog began as I neared the end of my Ph.D. studies and continues to this day as I wrap up my first year of full-time teaching at Grace. So much has happened during that time that I am sometimes in disbelief that all of it could happen in one year. At times this has meant missing my target of making 1-2 posts a week, something that I hope to be more successful at in the year to come.

Fourth, the challenge of writing a good post that is substantive, concise, and conducive to dialog is greater than I anticipated. But it is a good challenge, one that I believe will continue to stretch me in the months to come.

As a way of putting a final wrap on the first year and starting the second, I want to open this thread for your general comments and suggestions on how you would like to see this blog improve. I don't pretend to have all the answers, and I genuinely want this to be a forum for discussion, not merely my thoughts. So I open the floor to you and ask for your input on how I might improve the blog. I can't guarantee I'll be able to do everything you ask (e.g., suggesting that I post daily), but I will take all of your feedback seriously and implement those suggestions that I deem most helpful and realistic.

Thanks again for stopping by the blog; I do appreciate those who take the time to do so, and especially those who take the time to comment.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Journal of Theological Interpretation

Eisenbrauns has announced the publication of a new journal entitled Journal of Theological Interpretation. In the opening essay, Joel Green (one of the editors) notes:

The horizons of contemporary theological study evidence a widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo of academic biblical studies. As important as historical investigation and linguistic inquiry are for critical biblical study, they do not exhaust the subject matter of the Bible or the ways in which the biblical materials might be engaged critically or the role of Scripture among God’s people.
In light of this, Green lists a series of challenging questions for theological interpretation:

• What is the status of the theological tradition, including the tradition of biblical interpretation, in theological interpretation today?
• What is the role of history and historical criticism in theological interpretation?
• What is the status and role of the OT in the two-testament canonical Scriptures?
• What is the place of exegesis in theological method?
• What is the nature of the “unity” of Scripture?
• What is the role of the canon in theological interpretation?
• Does theological interpretation extract theological claims or principles from the Bible?
The articles in the issue are as follows:

  • "Reading the Bible with Eyes of Faith: The Practice of Theological Exegesis" (Richard B. Hays)
  • "Texts in Context: Scripture and the Divine Economy" (Murray Rae)
  • "Mission, Hermeneutics, and the Local Church" (Michael A. Rynkiewich)
  • "Trust and the Spirit: The Canon's Anticipated Unity" (Christine Helmer)
  • "Christ in All the Scriptures? The Challenge of Reading the Old Testament as Christian Scripture" (R.W.L. Moberly)
  • "Interpretation on the Way to Emmaus: Jesus Performs His Story" (D. Brent Laytham)
  • "A 'Seamless Garment' Approach to Biblical Interpretation?" (Michael J. Gorman)
Although I have not read through the entire journal, the proposed scope of this journal, combined with its outstanding editorial board, suggests this journal will quickly become a forum for the important discussion of the relationship between historical-critical study of Scripture and theology. Particularly noteworthy are the twelve identifying marks of theological exegesis that Hays proposes in his essay. That will be the subject of a future post.

The journal will be issued twice a year, and subscriptions are $30. For more information, check out information page for the Journal of Theological Interpretation at the Eisenbrauns website.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that you can download a pdf version of Joel Green's introduction to the journal and the article by Murray Rae; simply click on the link for information above, and on the right side of the page you will see a link for the sample issue.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Paul in Arabia - Gal 1:17

According to Gal 1:17, shortly after his conversion Paul went away to Arabia. Scholars have puzzled over this, as it seems an odd choice. So at least three interrelated questions arise:

1) Where exactly does Paul refer to by Arabia? (Hint: where else is Arabia referred to in Galatians? Does this matter?)

2) Why did Paul choose to go there?

3) What exactly was Paul doing while there?

The floor is open ...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Psalms 1 & 2

On their own both Psalms 1 & 2 are well-known and frequently read. The focus in Psalm 1 is on living in the way of righteousness and experiencing God's blessing in contrast to living in the way of the wicked and experiencing God's judgment. Psalm 2 focuses on God's sovereign rule over the earth and its rebellious kings/nations, who will one day be defeated by Yahweh's Anointed King.

What is frequently missed is the connection between the two. First, Psalm 1 opens by stating, "How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked ..." while Psalm 2 concludes "How blessed are all who take refuge in Him [i.e. God's Anointed]." Second, the prominent theme of "way" in Psalm 1 reappears at the end of Psalm 2, where the rebellious kings are warned to pay homage to the Son or otherwise "you perish in the way." Third, the word translated "mediate" (הגה) in Psalm 1:2 to refer to what the blessed man does with Yahweh's Law is the same word used in Psalm 2:1 to refer to the peoples "devising" a vain thing. Fourth, neither psalm is ascribed to an author and stand at the beginning of the entire psalter.

Now that I have done some of the exegetical spade work, I am opening the floor to you. What conclusions can and should we draw from these connections between Psalms 1-2? I, of course, have my own thoughts, but want to hear from you first before I share my own thoughts.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Coming Soon - Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics

The writings of Graeme Goldsworthy have played a significant role in the resurgence of biblical theology. In addition to his entry level text on Biblical Theology entitled According to Plan, his work on preaching (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture) has also proved immensely helpful in encouraging pastors to preach all of Scripture within a redemptive-historical framework.

Later this month Goldsworthy will have another title to add to the "must read" list: Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics. In this book, "Goldsworthy examines the foundations and presuppositions of evangelical belief as it applies to the interpretation of the Bible. He then surveys the hermeneutical history of the Christian church in an attempt to see where alien approaches have deconstructed our way of reading Scripture. Finally, he reconstructs an evangelical hermeneutics rightly centered in the gospel and rightly influenced by the method of biblical theology."

This promises to be an important contribution and I have already pre-ordered a copy.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Mark 9:1 - Seeing the Kingdom before their Death?

In Mark 9:1, Jesus says:

"Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power."

What does Jesus mean by this?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Noteworthy Blog - Hellenisti Ginoskeis: Do You Know Greek?

One of the occasional commenters on this blog, Dan Phillips, has started a new blog entitled Hellenisti Ginoskeis: Do You Know Greek? According to Dan, the purpose of the blog:

"is all about reading, understanding, translating the Greek New Testament. My essays here are not necessarily disciplined, definitive articles. They are musings, observations, puzzlings, popping-offs, speculations, complaints, pronouncements, questions. I hope other students of the Greek New Testament will join in the Comments, to our mutual growth in understanding this God-breathed marvel"

The entries thus far are substantive and thought-provoking. But even more importantly, they tangibly demonstrate the value of working in the original Greek of the NT. I have already made this new blog one of my frequent stops in the blogosphere, and encourage you to do so as well. I am adding it to my list of links on the sidebar as well to encourage others to stop by and join the conversation.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Wide-Margin, Large-Print NA27 Coming Soon

For those (like me) whose eyesight is challenged by the font of the "normal" sized Nestle-Aland 27th ed. Greek New Testament and want more space in the margins to make notes, next month the German Bible Society will be releasing a Wide-Margin Edition Novum Testamentum Graece 27th ed. next month. It will be essentially the same length as the large print edition, but about 3/4 of an inch wider to allow for more room in the margins for notes.

Also available in March will be a Wide-Margin Edition Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia 4th ed.

No definitive word yet as to whether there will be a one-volume wide-margin text that combines the two.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Seminary for Free!

Grace Theological Seminary (where I teach) has recently announced its first ever Presidential Scholarship Competition. This scholarship provides full tuition as well as a monthly housing allowance for three years for those pursuing the M.Div., making it worth a total of $58,800! This scholarship will be granted to one incoming student beginning Fall 2007. Other scholarships (one-time, not annual) are available as well: 3 Trustees scholarships worth $2,000 each; 3 Faculty scholarships worth $1,000 each; 3 Achievement Scholarships worth $500 each. These scholarships are being offered in connection with our Glimpse of Grace event on March 23-24. This scholarship may be just the opportunity that you have been waiting for!

For further information, please follow the links above, email our Seminary Recruitment director Ryan Egli (, or call him (574-372-5100 x6435).

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Purpose of Parables (Mark 4:10-12)

In response to the question of why he teaches in parables, Jesus says "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12 so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN." (Mark 4:11-12)

Several questions arise from Jesus' answer:

1. Does Jesus use parables to intentionally prevent some from seeing, hearing, repenting, etc.?

2. What exactly does the phrase "mystery of the kingdom of God" mean?

3. How does the "citation" of Isa 6:9 fit with the larger context of Mark?

4. How does the larger context of Mark illuminate Jesus' statement here?

The floor is now yours ...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Emerging Church and the Emergent Movement

In late July I will be participating in a two-day course/colloquium that focuses in part on the Emerging Church. While I have dipped into the broader discussion here and there, in order for me to participate intelligently, I need to do some substantial reading. So for those of you who have read on the subject, what resources do you recommend? I want to focus mostly on reading folks within the emergent movement itself, since I am generally familiar with the criticisms raised.

N.B. This is not the place to begin the debate on the Emergent Movement! As time passes and I read on the subject, I may in fact post on it. But for now I am in the research stage!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"An Obedient King" (Matt 26:36-46)

This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at our new church home (Christ's Covenant Church). I preached from Matthew 26:36-46. For those who might be interested, you can listen to the sermon here.

Monday, January 15, 2007

MLK Jr.'s "Dream"

Given that today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I have decided to post here an op-ed piece that I wrote for the campus newspaper at Ohio University sometime in the late 90s (I forget the exact year). At the time I was on staff w/ Campus Crusade for Christ. As you read, keep in mind that the piece was written for publication in a VERY liberal campus newspaper. I'd welcome any comments you might have.

Few individuals in the 20th century have had a greater impact on our nation than Martin Luther King Jr.. The societal change that Dr. King brought about was nothing short of miraculous, and the legacy of his heroic efforts lives on today.

We as a culture have the responsibility to see that the changes Dr. King fought for so diligently will live on for generations to come. Despite his dream to see people of all different ethnic backgrounds living together in society peacefully, and the efforts made in the past 30 years to make that dream a reality, we would all agree that the fulfillment of this dream has not been reached. This raises the obvious question of what has gone wrong.

Various reasons could be cited as to why this is the case, and arguments could be advanced as to which factors are the most prominent in preventing the fulfillment of King's dream. But I am convinced that if we are to discover what lies at the foundation of the problem, we need to examine two key assumptions that helped form the basis of Dr. King's views on racial equality. Both of these key pillars to King's belief system were rooted in the Bible, which should come as no surprise to us considering the fact that he was a pastor first and foremost.

The first assumption is that we as human beings have been created in the image of God. There are many ramifications to this idea, but the primary one for our purposes here is one of significance and value. Since every individual human being is created in the image of God, every individual is entitled to the same dignity and respect. This is what sets us apart from the rest of creation; we were created with the specific purpose of reflecting God's character. Because every individual of every ethnic group was created in the image of God, there's no room for racism. The perpetuation of racism is fundamentally incompatible with the Biblical idea of humanity created in the image of God. I recognize that in the past there have been those who have attempted to defend racism and slavery by appeals to the Bible, but that simply reflects a terrible error in interpretation and a fundamental failure to understand the broader context of the entire Bible. Let me state it in the most explicit terms possible: racism is a sin that grieves the heart of God deeply and in no way can be supported by any responsible reading of the Bible.

The second assumption which acted as a pillar of King's belief system was the idea that each of us as human beings are ultimately accountable to God for the way in which we live our lives. There are consequences for the evil things that we do in this life. This is such a prominent theme in the Bible that it is virtually impossible to miss. Because each of us must ultimately answer to God for the way in which we live our lives, it is in our best interests to live in such a way that we reflect God’s standards of right and wrong on a daily basis. A society composed of individuals who understand their accountability to God should make every effort to ensure that our society (composed of individuals made in the image of God) reflects the justice of God himself.

These two key assumptions helped form the basis of King's understanding of racial equality. It might be objected that King does not deal with these ideas explicitly in his speeches, and that I am merely reading them into this situation for my own purposes. But I would argue that the reason King does not mention these ideas very prominently in his speeches is the fact that these two key ideas were part of our cultural believe system 30 years ago. He did not have to explicitly mention his belief that each human being bears the image of God and is ultimately accountable to God for their actions because an overwhelming majority of our culture agreed with these two assumptions. They simply had not applied these two beliefs to the issue of racial equality.

The primary reason why King's dream has not been more fully realized in the past 30 years is that our culture no longer believes these two key assumptions. Most individuals in our culture no longer believe that every individual human being is created in the image of God and must ultimately answer to God for the way in which that individual lives that life. Life is now viewed as a cosmic accident in which each individual is merely the product of a Darwinian struggle for the survival of the fittest. The tragedy of this conclusion is that such a belief system cannot give an adequate reason for why racism is wrong. In fact, if life indeed is merely a survival of the fittest, it would logically follow that racism would be acceptable. (I'm not saying that everyone who believes in evolution is a racist; I am merely pointing out that if evolution is true it is extremely difficult to come up with a reason why racism is wrong).

I wholeheartedly share Dr. King’s dream of a society of people from many different ethnic backgrounds living together joyfully in a community. Yet I do not see how this dream will ever become reality if our culture continues to deny these two key pillars of King's belief system: humanity created in the image of God, and human accountability to God. It is my hope that our culture will once again embrace these ideas and move ever closer to the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream.