Saturday, December 27, 2008

Atheist Believes Africa Needs God

In today's Times on Line, an avowed atheist provides a unique perspective on the difference the gospel is making in the lives of Africans. Particularly striking is this quote:

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

For this committed atheist it was the transformation the gospel brings that has forced him to admit that his own worldview cannot account for what he is observing. Would that the gospel do the same in our hearts so that those around us cannot deny the transformation even if it does not fit their worldview!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

C.J. Mahaney on the Disturbing Nature of Christmas

While taking a brief break from preparing the Christmas Eve message for tomorrow night's service, I came across this helpful blogpost on the Disturbing Nature of Christmas. I commend the entire post, but to whet your appetite here is a juicy quote:

During this time of year, it may be easy to forget that the bigger purpose behind Bethlehem was Calvary. But the purpose of the manger was realized in the horrors of the cross. The purpose of his birth was his death.

Or to put it more personally: Christmas is necessary because I am a sinner. The incarnation reminds us of our desperate condition before a holy God.
This is a helpful reminder that if we preach the birth of Jesus without reference to his death and resurrection for our sins we are actually presenting a distorted picture of what Christmas is actually about.

May we all grow in our awe and wonder that God would take on flesh and be born in a filthy stable/cave to save sinners from the fury of his wrath that we deserve for our rebellion against him.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

All Things are Better in Koine

For those of you who love both geek and Greek humor, this is a must see video. You will want to watch a few times over to catch all of the humor. And even if you do not know Greek, I think you can still appreciate some of the humor.

HT: Jim Hamilton

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Announcing Bibleworks 8.0

Recently Bibleworks announced the release of their latest version, 8.0. The weblink provides further details on what is new in this release. Perhaps even more helpful are the series of posts at the Bibleworks Blog where Michael Hanel has been reviewing different feautures of the new version. I personally am looking forward to now having the OT Pseudepigrapha in Greek fully tagged and searchable, as well as the two new features called the Phrase Matching Tool and the Related Verse Tool. From everything I can tell, it looks like another major improvement. They have even included as standard now the grammars by Wallace, Waltke/O'Connor, and Juon Muraoka. Unbelievable! There are other fine Bible software programs out there, but NONE of them can match the bang for your buck that you get from Bibleworks.

As best I understand, they will not begin shipping for another two weeks or so. But you can place your order now. The amazing thing is that the cost for the package remains an unbeatable $349. And upgrade prices are also available: from 6.0 is $175 while from 7.0 it is $150. TOTALLY WORTH IT.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Son of Man, Can this Blog Live?"

With all due apologies to Ezekiel 37:3, the remnant of you who have continued to check this blog may have begun to wonder something similar. This current semester that is now in its last days has been the most challenging of my young academic life, and in the midst of it all the blog has sort of fallen to the periphery. Here's just a taste of some of the things that have been keeping me busy:

A Full Academic Teaching Load. While I have taught a full load before, in light of some of the changes made here at Grace I have begun teaching some undergrad classes as well. In light of this the total number of students I have in my classes this semester has quadrupled. I have also been developing and overseeing a new class in our General Education Core called Exploring the Bible, which is an overview of the biblical metanarrative. While I have enjoyed these responsibilities, it has consumed much more time than in past semesters.

A Full Ministry Teaching Load. By this distinction I am not indicating that my academic teaching load is not ministry, of course. But outside of those responsibilities I have been busy teaching in the church context as well. I taught a 12 week Sunday School class on the Minor Prophets, which I greatly enjoyed. As part of our church's IMPACT Leadership Training Program I taught a 10 week course entitled "The Gospel-Centered Life." And every Monday night during the semester I led a mentoring group of Grace Seminary students through 1 Timothy. I have enjoyed each one of these opportunities to refine my thinking on these areas.

A Full Writing Load. In the midst of this I have been chipping away at my commentary on Philippians that I am writing for the Mentor series. I look forward to my time in Philippians, but things have been so busy that I have not made as much progress as I would have liked. I have a couple of other writing projects in the works at different stages as well.

A Full Family Load. This fall Kate began teaching English at a Christian Junior High / High School. She has enjoyed it a lot, but this change has resulted in some alterations to our family routine. Also, our oldest son played PeeWee football and our youngest is now playing basketball. And somebody has to play with Luther, our 20 month old Boston Terrier.

With all of that said, I do plan to resume regular posting. My intention is to take snippets of some of the things I have been working on this past semester and post them here. In particular, I would like to work through some of the material I used for the Gospel-Centered Life class.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Interesting Artifact Found

This article in the Israeli newspaper HAARETZ ("The Land") announces the discovery of a sarcophagus cover with the inscription "Son of the High Priest." Experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority believe the artifact dates from 30–70 A.D., the formative years for early Christianity.


HT: Evangelical Textual Criticism

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Envisioning the Temple

Justin Taylor has written a very helpful article on the Temple based on the resources that will be available in the forthcoming ESV Study Bible. What I especially appreciate is the fact that Justin does not stop with a description of the temple itself but identifies what the temple was pointing to all along: the true temple Jesus Christ.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Who is the Worst Sinner You Know?

    Paul never lost the wonder of the gospel of God's grace to him. Even after 30+ years of walking with Christ and serving as the lead apostle among the Gentiles, he remained blown away by the fact that God had saved him. In 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Paul recounts his testimony of how the grace of God transformed his life. Before Christ stopped him on the road to Damascus he "was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor" (1:13). But the grace of God was more than sufficient to save him, since "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1:15).

    At this point Paul makes a surprising statement. We might expect Paul to continue his thought by saying "among whom I WAS the foremost." Given his life before Christ, who could argue? He was a persecutor of the church and a blasphemer! But instead Paul says "among whom I AM the foremost" (1:15). In other words, Paul thinks of himself currently as the "foremost of sinners." It is not merely a description of his former life, but a statement of his current experience.

    So how could Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, think of himself as the foremost of sinners after 30+ years of walking with Christ? I believe the answer rests in his self-understanding and his God-understanding. Paul knew the mixture of his motives, the impurity of his desires, the extent of his failure to love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. As he grew in his understanding of God he progressively saw the depths of his sin in ways he never appreciated. Combined with his growing understanding of the perfections of God in Christ his sin became increasingly odious to him.

    Who came to mind when you saw the title of this post? Did you think of a mass murderer? A child molestor? Osama bin Laden? Hitler? I am becoming convinced that the biblical answer to that question for every single person is "me." Sure, I haven't committed the outward acts that would lead others to call me the worst sinner they know. But when we recall Jesus' exposition of the Law in Matthew 5–6, I reach a different conclusion. I am guilty in my heart of the very sins that Jesus describes. Even my best actions are tainted by sinful motivations, many of which I do not even fully recognize or appreciate.

    I am convinced that one of the marks of growth in holiness is paradoxically a growing awareness of the depth and extent of our sinfulness. As the Spirit continues his work in our lives, he exposes the idolatry in our lives in all its various forms. But he does this to cause us to abandon those idols and instead cling to Christ. And that is why we need to preach the gospel to ourselves daily.

    So, who is the worst sinner you know?

Monday, September 22, 2008

“Assumed Evangelicalism” by David Gibson

    One of the best biblical theology websites out there is Today a new article was posted by David Gibson, one of the editors. It is entitled "Assumed Evangelicalism: Some Reflections en route to denying the Gospel." After briefly describing the general pattern of movements as proclaiming the gospel, assuming the gospel, and eventually denying the gospel, he sets out to describe evangelicalism as it appears to be following this pattern. Assumed evangelicalism:

"believes and signs up to the gospel. It certainly does not deny the gospel. But in terms of priorities, focus, and direction, assumed evangelicalism begins to give gradually increasing energy to concerns other than the gospel and key evangelical distinctives, to gradually elevate secondary issues to a primary level, to be increasingly worried about how it is perceived by others and to allow itself to be increasingly influenced both in content and method by the prevailing culture of the day."

    From there he goes on to ask two questions to enable us to identify which phase (proclaimed, assumed, denied) best describes ourselves and our ministries:

  1. To what extent does the gospel dictate our priorities in life, and the visions and strategies of our churches, movements and institutions?
  2. To what extent do the key features of evangelicalism dictate our priorities in life, and the visions and strategies of our churches, movements and institutions?

Gibson has helpfully and concisely summarized many of the concerns that I have had as I have watched certain trends in evangelicalism. I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing.

Friday, August 22, 2008

What does Ray Ortlund Jr. take into the Pulpit with Him?

Part Four in Josh Harris's series on the sermon notes of several prominent preachers has now been posted here. The latest installment is Ray Ortlund Jr.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What does C.J. Mahaney take into the Pulpit with him?

Part Three in Josh Harris's series on the sermon notes of several prominent preachers has now been posted here. The latest addition is that of C.J. Mahaney.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Website You Must See

One of the most common questions I am asked is "what's the best commentary on _________?" Answering that question is far more complicated than many people realize, as the answer depends on what one is looking to get from the commentary (technical information, solid application, close exegesis of the Greek or Hebrew, etc.).

This morning I learned of a fabulous new website that provides a treasury of information about seemingly every commentary out there, both OT and NT. It incorporates the volumes by Tremper Longman and D.A. Carson on commentaries, as well as many other resources. Commentaries are described and ranked. Not that I (or anyone else for that matter) will agree with every assessment of every commentary, but what a fantastic place to start when trying to answer the question "what are the best commentaries on ________"

Also nice from the curiousity end of things is the "forthcoming" section where future commentaries are listed by author, series, book of the bible, etc.

This is a must view site!

HT: Justin Taylor

Friday, August 15, 2008

What Does Mike Bullmore take into the Pulpit with Him?

Continuing the series that began earlier in the week, Josh Harris has now posted the notes of Mike Bullmore here. Although Bullmore is far less well-known than Mark Dever, he is every bit his equal in the pulpit. You can read more about him and his church here.

The sermon notes posted are from a message preached in February 2008 on Zephaniah. You can listen to the audio of the sermon here. One thing you will immediately notice is that Bullmore writes out his notes by hand, and that his handwriting is, shall we say, less than easily deciphered by those with untrained eyes.

On a personal note, I owe a great deal to Bullmore. He was my preaching instructor for all three of my courses at TEDS, and I consider that one of the highlights of my seminary education. No one person has had a greater influence on how I conceptualize and practice the task of preaching than him. If you would like a taste of his thoughts on preaching, here are three lectures that are available for free download:

Five Convictions about Preaching without which One Should not Preach

Things I've Learned About Preaching After Having Taught It for 15 Years

Watch Your Preaching: Effective Sermon Preparation

HT: Justin Taylor

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What Does Mark Dever take into the Pulpit with Him?

It always fascinates me to see what various preachers take into the pulpit by way of notes. Some take nothing at all, having committed the entire sermon (or at least an outline) to memory. Others take word for word manuscripts. Most preachers are somewhere in between. While I do not think there is one right answer for everyone, I think some options are better than others.

Over at his blog Josh Harris has begun a series in which he is posting the sermon notes of some well-known preachers. In other words, he has taken the exact notes that the given preacher takes into the pulpit with him. I think this is a fascinating way to see a diversity of approaches.

The first entry is about Mark Dever, who clearly falls on the manuscript end of things. I think it is instructive in the PDF file that is posted to see the handwritten tweaks made, perhaps that very morning. Note also his notes in the margin at the conclusion where he reminds himself to slow down in delivery to make the words sink in more deeply.

HT: Justin Taylor

Friday, July 25, 2008

Online Resources by Tom Schreiner

One of the best NT scholars out there is Tom Schreiner at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is particularly helpful on difficult issues such as Paul's view of the Law, the role of women in ministry and a biblical understanding of perseverance and the warning passages. On his faculty home page, there are a number of links to articles, reviews and even chapter excerpts from some of his books. I highly recommend this page as a resource to you. You can find it here.

On a personal note, Tom has been very gracious to me personally. He was kind enough to give me an advance look at his now published NT Theology so I could use it in preparing for a course I teach here at Grace. This forum provides me with an opportunity to thank him publicly.

HT: Between Two Worlds

Monday, July 21, 2008

Individualism is the Problem, Community is the Solution - Or Is It?

In the most recent issue of Modern Reformation, Jonathan Leeman explores whether individualism is the problem that many today say it is and whether community truly is the solution. You can read the article here. I think Leeman is on to some very important observations that the church needs to consider before diving down the "community is the solution to all our problems" rabbit hole.

HT: Church Matters

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Introducing a New Feature

On the sidebar I have added a new feature to the blog. Offered by the Joshua Project, each day a new unreached people group will be displayed with some basic information as to how we can specifically pray for the gospel to reach them (to add this to your own website, follow this link). It is my hope this very small feature will be a reminder to all of us to at least pray for the advance of the gospel into unreached areas and be mindful of ways we can contribute to those in darkness being exposed to the "light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Survey on Religion and Public Life in America Reveals Evangelicals Have Their Work Cut Out For Them

Yesterday the results of a massive survey on religion in America were released, summarized in this article. It was conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Before I give the results, I will give my standard disclaimer on the limited value of surveys as tools to accurately reflect belief and practice. In addition to the role that the wording of questions plays in the results, we must also recognize that people's self-perception is not always the most accurate. For those interested in the details, you can find the full reports here. Because I do not have unlimited stores of time, I did not go through them, but based on their own summary of findings I wanted to make a few observations and their implications for the church in the U.S.

1. At the macro-level, we note that of Americans as a whole "92 percent believe in God, 74 percent believe in life after death and 63 percent say their respective scriptures are the word of God." One the one hand this is potentially good in that we likely do not need to spend significant amounts of time convincing people that God exists, or that there is an afterlife, or even of the divine nature of Scripture. But on the other hand what we will certainly have to do is explain that the God who exists is in fact the God definitively revealed in the incarnation of Christ, that the afterlife contains both a heaven and a hell that is predicated on repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ, and that the Bible itself is the final authority for truth, life, godliness, faith, practice, etc.

2. Continuing at the macro-level, "
70 percent of Americans with a religious affiliation" believe that "many religions can lead to eternal life," and "68 percent said there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their own religion." This is no surprise; the combination of pluralism and relativism havee produced a culture in which it appears arrogant to believe in only one way to God and presumptuous to contend that there is only one true way to interpret the Bible's central message.

3. Moving to the evangelical world, we find our most disturbing observation: "
57 percent of evangelical church attenders said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life." This number may in part reflect the increasingly broad use of the term evangelical (it is to such a degree that it may soon be wise to avoid the term as it loses its value as a meaningful distinction with other Christian traditions), but I am not ready to dismiss the statistic. The fact that so many who identify themselves as evangelicals deny such a central Biblical teaching as the exclusivity of Christ for salvation indicates a failure of the church to instruct her people through preaching, teaching, small groups and personal discipleship.

Let me close with a plea for those who read this blog. What are you specifically doing to help fellow believers understand the biblical roots of their faith and the practical implications of that faith in everyday life? We must be proactive in teaching, preaching, etc. to articulate and apply those aspects of biblical truth that confront the idolatries of our culture (in this case, relativistic pluralism) and then live them out.

In one sense everyone's life is controlled by a story. Sadly, for many Christians instead of the biblical story operating as the controlling story by which every other story must be evaluated, the reverse is true. The prevailing story of our current culture is allowed final say, and those bits and pieces of the Bible that can be accommodated into its framework are allowed while the rest is rejected. Brothers and sisters, we must understand the metanarrative of who God is and what he is doing in the world and then fit our own stories into that grand story, rather than arrogantly thinking that we must find some way to fit God into the story of our culture or perhaps more frequently our own personal story. And the primary responsibility for helping believers do that rests with those entrusted with the preaching and teaching ministry of the church. It must shape the way we teach everything, such that our people begin to develop a sort of Spirit-refined intuition for understanding all of life within the story of God revealed from Genesis to Revelation.

Monday, June 02, 2008

David Wells on Preaching

From David Wells' most recent book, The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers and Emergents in the Postmodern World, page 230...

"Preaching is not a conversation, a chat about some interesting ideas. It is not the moment in which postmoderns hear their own private messages in the biblical words, one unique to each one who hears, and then go their own way. No! This is God speaking! He speaks through the stammering lips of the preacher where that preacher's mind is on the text of Scripture and his heart is in the presence of God. God, as Luther put it, lives in the preacher's mouth.

This is the kind of preaching that issues a summons, which nourishes the soul, which draws the congregation into the very presence of God so that no matter what aspect of his character, his truth, his working in this world is in focus, we leave with awe, gratitude, encouragement, and sometimes a rebuke. We have been in the very presence of God! That is what great preaching always does."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sermon Audio - Setting His Face Towards Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-56)

Last Sunday I preached again at my home church. You can find the audio here.

Monday, May 26, 2008

International Survey on Biblical Literacy

I came across this article on a survey by the Catholic Biblical Federation and carried out by GFK Eurisko, described as a "sociological survey of sociological attitudes towards the Bible in various nations." Here is summary of some of the key findings, taken from the first article linked above:

• The United States has by far the highest level of its adult population that claims to have read at least one passage from the Bible in the last year (75%) and to have a Bible at home (93%), but it doesn’t score better than anyone else on tests of basic Biblical literacy. For example, large numbers of Americans, just like people in the other eight countries surveyed, mistakenly thought that Jesus had authored a book of the Bible, and couldn’t correctly distinguish between Paul and Moses in terms of which figure belongs to the Old Testament.

• Even within highly secularized nations such as France, the U.K. and Holland, broad majorities report a positive attitude towards the Bible, describing it as “interesting” and expressing a desire to know more about it.

• Broad majorities also describe the Bible as “difficult” and express a need for help in understanding it – suggesting, according to the authors of the study, a “teaching moment” for the churches.

• Fundamentalists, or those who take a literal view of Scripture, do not know more about the Bible than anyone else. In fact, researchers said, it’s readers whose attitudes they described as “critical,” meaning that they see the Bible as the word of God but in need of interpretation, who are over-represented at the highest levels of Biblical literacy. In other words, fundamentalists actually score lower on basic Biblical awareness.

• In virtually every country surveyed, those who take a “critical” view of the Bible represent a larger share of the population than either “fundamentalists” or “reductionists,” meaning those who see the Bible simply as literature or a collection of myths and legends. In the United States, “fundamentalists” are 27 percent of the population, “critics” 51 percent, and “reductionists” 20 percent. Interestingly, both Poland and Russia have a similar share of “fundamentalists,” despite lacking the strong Evangelical Protestant tradition familiar in the U.S.

• There is no apparent correlation between reading the Bible and any particular political orientation. In other words, it’s not the case that the more someone reads the Bible, the more likely they are to be a political conservative or liberal.

• Aside from the United States, there’s broad support in most nations for teaching the Bible in public schools, suggesting that large numbers of people attach cultural importance to the Bible even if it’s not part of their personal belief system. (The different result in the United States, according to researchers, flows from America’s unique tradition of church/state separation, in which families and churches rather than public schools have been the primary carriers of religious instruction).

• There no longer appear to be major differences in Biblical reading patterns and Biblical familiarity between countries with Catholic majorities and those with Protestant majorities, suggesting that, in the words of Bishop Vincenzo Paglia of Terni, Italy, the president of the Catholic Biblical Federation, the Bible has become “the ecumenical book of all believers.”

There is a lot here to digest, and apparently this is only an interim report that covers the northern hemisphere. Results for the southern hemisphere will also be compiled. But the information available leads me to the following reflections.

1. Despite having a higher percentage of people actually reading the Bible, those in the US do not have a better functional literacy. I could suggest a variety of causes, but the bottom line is that this observation alone demands that the church must do a far better job of helping people see how the Bible fits together. This trend is only getting worse; biblical literacy among those entering Bible colleges is on a fast track downward with no sign of abating.

2. The fact that a large percentage of people remain interested in the Bible is an opening for the church to focus its preaching and teaching on the Bible. But we must do so in a way that is faithful to the text. We need to help people see what God said to his people and the world then AS WELL AS what God is saying to his people and the world now. If one of these elements is lacking we are not being faithful.

3. Broad majorities expressing that the Bible is difficult to understand would suggest opportunities for the church to explain how the Bible fits together. I have seen this myself with both Christians and non-Christians. Especially here in the US, people have bits and pieces of the Bible, but have little if any understanding of how the whole Bible fits together. It is one of the most rewarding things I do in ministry to help people see how the Bible is one unified story running from creation to new creation with Christ as the centerpiece of redemptive history.

4. Without having more detail on how they define "fundamentalism" and "critical" it is hard to know how to interpret the comment that fundamentalists actually score lower on biblical literacy. The way it is described here makes me suspicious at the least.

5. As with the last point, without seeing further definition of the terms "fundamentalist," "critical" and "reductionist" I can't comment beyond noting the interesting fact that the percentages are the same in the US and Russia.

6. I am not surprised at the lack of correlation between Biblical literacy and specific political persuasions. For the Bible to effectively shape one's politics in any meaningful way, it would have to form the worldview of a person. Short of that, people will easily read their own political beliefs into the Bible.

7. The wording of the last observation about countries with Catholic and Protestant majorities having little difference sounds fishy to me. But even if we take it at face value, the most likely explanation in my mind is that Catholics have made modest gains at best while Protestants have regressed significantly. In other words, this is not a point for the Catholic church to rejoice about so much as it is a point for the Protestant church to lament.

It would have been nice to know within the huge category of "Protestant" how evangelicals fared, but the sad news I would not be confident of a significant difference. By God's grace we must resolve to understand the Bible well ourselves and communicate it to others in a way that enables them to encounter Christ and be transformed by him.

HT: Bayly Blog

Friday, May 23, 2008

Understanding the Bible Christologically

In the latest issue of The Tie, the magazine of Southern Seminary, there are several articles on Reading the Bible Christologically. Worth particular attention are the articles by Wellum, Hamilton and Powlison. You can access the online pdf version free here.

HT: Jim Hamilton

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Online Resources by Doug Moo

As some of you know, I had the privilege of doing my doctoral studies under the supervision of Doug Moo, who served for many years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and for the past eight years at Wheaton College in the Graduate School. I wanted to make you aware of his website: Originally this site began as a place for Doug to sell his photography, which is quite impressive on its own right. But more recently he has added a wealth of some of his own articles, writings, etc., which can be found here. You will quickly notice that his main areas of emphasis have been in Pauline studies (especially on Romans and Paul's view of the Law) as well as several articles on the interpretation of 1 Tim 2:11-15. It is a great blessing to the church that these articles are now being made available in PDF files. I encourage you to take advantage of these great resources.

Lord willing, in the years to come we should see additional publications from Moo including but not limited to: commentaries on Colossians/Philemon (Pillar; due out in the next 6-12 months), Galatians (Baker Exegetical) and Hebrews (not sure which series). He is also slated to to do a Pauline theology as well as continue his research in the area of a theology of creation and its relationship to environmental issues.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"The Radiance of the Son" (Luke 9:28-36)

On May 4 I preached at my home church (Christ's Covenant Church) on Luke's account of the Transfiguration (9:28-36). They have now posted the audio here. Rest assured, even though the title says the sermon is by "Dr. Mark Harmon" it is in fact me preaching; to my knowledge the actor does not have a Ph.D. (UPDATE: They have now corrected it; thanks Kirsten!).

Continuing on the lighter note, this was the first time I had preached since our church changed the service times back in January. The service times used to be 9:00-10:30 and 11:00-12:30. But in January they were changed to 9:00-10:15 and 10:30-11:45. Unfortunately when I got up to preach in the first service, my brain defaulted to the old service times, and I preached until 10:30. I was even priding myself on "landing the plane" on time by finishing exactly at 10:30. This was despite the yellow post-it note on the pulpit with the revised service times staring me in the face during the entire sermon. After the service one of the elders graciously reminded me of the new sermon times, and I sheepishly acknowledged my goof. An amusing but humbling experience!

So the people in the first service got bonus material (about 10 minutes worth!). It appears the audio they have posted on the web is the second service version, which is still about 38 minutes.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Helpful Thoughts on Considering Ph.D. Studies

Sean Michael Lucas, Chief Academic Officer and Associate Professor of Church History at Covenant Theological Seminary, provides some helpful thoughts on how he responds to students who approach him about pursuing Ph.D. studies.

HT: Justin Taylor

Monday, May 05, 2008

Early Christian Mission by Eckhard J. Schnabel

Early Christian Mission

Early Christian Mission

by Eckhard J. Schnabel
InterVarsity Press - IVP, 2004
xliv + 1,928 pages, English
Cloth, 6 x 9
ISBN: 0830827900
List Price: $90.00
Your Price: $62.91

This two volume set by Eckhard Schnabel is a remarkable achievement. I finished working my way through the nearly 1,600 pages of text, and despite the length found myself enjoying it immensely. Schnabel's goal is to provide a full study of the early Christian missionary movement through the first century. The original version of the book was written in German under the title Urchristliche Mission in 2002. This English version published in 2004 by IVP "corrects mistakes, revises some arguments and expands the information at several points" (p. xxvii). It is thus a unique blend of history, exegesis, theology and praxis rolled into one.

The work is composed of an introduction and seven parts with a total of 35 chapters, which when spread over 1,588pages of text makes for some incredibly long chapters. In what follows I will try to give a very brief summary of each part.

Introduction - here Schnabel addresses methodological issues. Noteworthy in this section is the extensively detailed chronology he provides, covering the birth of Jesus (4 B.C.) to the letters of Ignatius of Antioch (113 A.D.). It may be the most detailed one I have come across yet, covering Jewish, Roman and Christian events.

Part I: Promise - Israel's Eschatological Expectations and Jewish Expansion in the Second Temple Period - Schnabel enters the debate of whether a Jewish mission to the Gentiles existed during the STJ period. Although recognizing universal elements within the OT (esp. Isaiah), Schnabel sees no compelling evidence for an actual Jewish mission to the Gentiles. "There are no statements by Jewish or Roman authors that force us to conclude that there was an active Jewish mission among Gentiles. Judaism had neither a missionary theory nor organized missionary activity before the first century A.D." (173).

Part II - Fulfillment - The Mission of Jesus - The ministry of Jesus himself is seen as the fountainhead of the early Christian mission. Schnabel concludes that Jesus could have easily visited the 175 towns/villages of Galilee during his ministry; as a result almost everyone of the approximately 200,000 people living in Galilee would have heard of Jesus. The same holds for most of the 500,000 Judeans, including the 100,000 inhabitants if Jerusalem. Although Jesus did not initiate contacts with non-Jews, Gentiles or polytheists, he did not avoid such contacts either. He did teach of a time when the promises of salvation to the Gentiles would come to fulfillment, which laid the foundation for the early Christian mission to the Gentiles. Jesus' commission to his disciples began a new phase in the history of the people of God in which the universal and international dimensions of God's promises in the OT were coming to pass.

Part III - Beginnings - The Mission of the Apostles in Jerusalem - The beginnings of the early Christian mission flow from the events of Easter and Pentecost. Jesus carries out this mission initially through the life of the Twelve in Jerusalem. The leadership of the Jerusalem church remained with the Twelve until 41 A.D. when a transition was made to a council of elders with James the brother of Jesus as first among equals. This was prompted by the persecution of Herod Agrippa I, who executed James the son of Zebedee and imprisoned Peter. At this point history suggests the Twelve dispersed in various directions for international mission work.

Part IV - Exodus - The Mission of the Twelve from Jerusalem to the Ends of the Earth - The Hellenistic, Greek speaking Jewish Christians of Jerusalem took the lead in proclaiming the consequences of the death and resurrection of Jesus for the identity of the people of God. Torah was no longer the center of Israel's relationship to Yahweh, the temple is no longer the central place of God's presence and the land of Judea is no more special than any other piece of land. Upon the martyrdom of Stephen these Hellenistic-Jewish Christians spread the gospel in various areas outside of Judea. Peter himself engaged in Gentile mission, and more permanently left Jerusalem in 41 A.D. to engage in further mission work. Jewish Christians also proclaimed the gospel in and around Judea as evidenced by the growth of local churches in various villages and towns.

Part V - Pioneer Missionary Work - The Mission of the Apostle Paul - After a description of Paul's background, Schnabel deals at length with Paul's conversion, extensive missionary work, and eventual imprisonment in Caesarea and Rome. He agrees with early tradition that Paul was released to engage in further mission work only to be re-arrested and executed in Rome in the mid to late 60s. Paul saw his primary calling as a pioneer missionary and worked with many coworkers in his efforts.

Part VI - Growth - Consolidation and Challenges of the Early Christian Churches - There appear to have been several centers of the early Christian movement: Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus and Rome. By the end of the first century the church continued to grow and expand through the gradual process of personal evangelism of believers and intentional missionary efforts. The early missionaries used the spoken (and occasionally written) word to expand the reach of the gospel. After exploring 17 proposed reasons for the successful growth of Christianity, he holds that it is the work of God himself.

Part VII - Results - The Identity, Praxis and Message of the Early Christian Mission - This final section is the "payoff" of the laborious research offered in the previous six parts. Schnabel offers important insight into the self-understanding of the early Christian missionaries, their praxis and message. He concludes with a chapter of reflections on the implications of his study for missionary work in the present day.

Although few will have the time and patience to wade through the entirety of the two volumes, pastors, missionaries and scholars alike will want to have them on their shelves. The extensive bibliographies and indexes make it possible to dip into various sections with profit. Schnabel provides extensive treatment of the various cities the early Christian missionaries entered, which would serve as helpful background when doing work in Acts or on the life of Paul.

Schnabel is to be commended for this breathtaking achievement. The breadth and depth of scholarship in seemingly every area he addresses is nothing short of amazing. Early Christian Mission promises to be the standard treatment of the subject for decades to come.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God's Unfolding Purpose by Paul Williamson

Sealed with an Oath

The latest volume in the outstanding New Studies in Biblical Theology series is entitled Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God's Unfolding Purpose by Paul Wiliamson. My review of this book for Review of Biblical Literature has just been published and can be found here.

I will not repeat the review here, but I will make a few comments. Overall the book is a very interesting read and does an excellent job of showing the relationship of the various biblical covenants to each other. The most distinctive part of the book is Williamson's argument that Gen 15 and Gen 17 present two distinct but related covenants; the first is national and the second is international. The two are related in that the international cannot take place without the national first coming to pass.

Also worth noting is that Williamson rejects the idea of a covenant in Eden. This conclusion rests not only on the absence of covenantal language in Gen 1-2 but also the very nature of covenants themselves. He argues that they exist only in contexts where there is potential mistrust; in such cases a covenant is entered into as a guarantee that the parties will fulfill their obligations.

As I note in the review, the biggest weakness of the book is the fact that he spends only three pages discussing the consummation of the covenants in Revelation 21-22. Given the amount of covenantal references in these two chapters, it was a disappointment to see such a short treatment.

That notwithstanding, I warmly recommend this book as a thought-provoking and helpful guide to understanding the biblical covenants.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Food for Thought as You Prepare that Easter Sermon

This article in USA Today is a must read in light of celebrating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. If people do not understand sin as rebellion against a holy God, they will not understand why it was necessary for Christ to die and rise from the dead.

HT: Justin Taylor

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Paul: Missionary of Jesus by Paul Barnett

Books on the Apostle Paul that are readable, informed by top-notch scholarship and insightful are hard to come by. But Paul: Missionary of Jesus by Paul Barnett is just such a book.

Barnett does a masterful job of assembling a composite picture of Paul the man, the missionary and theologian. The book is animated by Barnett's interest in demonstrating that Paul was a faithful missionary of Jesus in his ministry to the Gentiles. To make this case Barnett draws together the testimony of Paul's letters, Acts and
information from Greco-Roman and Second Temple Jewish sources. And he does so in a way that is easy to read not just for scholar, seminary student, or pastor, but for the lay person as well.

Part of what makes this book unique is Barnett's ability to incorporate the best of scholarship on Paul without overwhelming or boring the non-academic reader. Paul comes alive as a real human being, rather than the rather artificial image that many Christians have of Paul. And at a mere 200 pages, one does not need to commit the next six months to get through it.

My only gripe with the book is that Barnett does not deal with the early church tradition regarding Paul's release from a first Roman imprisonment for further ministry before being re-arrested in the mid 60s and subsequently being executed. This may have to do with the dearth of sources that make reasonable certainty hard to attain.

In summary, this book deserves wide circulation and will likely become required reading in my New Testament Introduction courses.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson

This past week I had the joy of reading Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson. At 160 pages it is a quick read, and provides an interesting window in life and ministry in French Quebec that for most readers will be unfamiliar. But it is in that context of Carson's ministry that we see a compelling picture of a "real" pastor who labored faithfully despite his own perception of inadequacies. Along the way D. A. Carson recounts some humorous incidents from his childhood (e.g., the time his sister punched a bully who later went on to become a professional hockey player). But the most valuable part of the book may be the nine observations Carson makes regarding his father's often melancholic remarks about his own walk and the slow pace of growth under his ministry (pp. 92-96).

Rather than reproduce them here (go out and buy the book!), I want to quote at length a section where Carson addresses his father's combination of: (1) a work ethic borne out of the Great Depression; (2) a streak of perfectionism; and (3) a lack of proper rest and refreshment. D. A. Carson writes (pp. 92-93) ...
So many aspects of ministry demand excellence, and there are not enough hours in the day to be excellent in all of them. When I was a young man, I heard D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones comment that he would not go across the street to hear himself preach. Now that I am close to the age he was when I heard him, I am beginning to understand. It is rare for me to finish a sermon without feeling somewhere between slightly discouraged and moderately depressed that I have not preached with more unction, that I have not articulated these glorious truths more powerfully and with greater insight, and so forth. But I cannot allow that to drive me to despair; rather, it must drive me to a greater grasp of the simple and profound truth that we preach and visit and serve under the gospel of grace, and God accepts us because of his Son. I must learn to accept myself not because of my putative successes but because of the merits of God’s Son. The ministry is so open-ended that one never feels that all possible work has been done, or done as well as one might like. There are always more people to visit, more studying to be done, more preparation to do. What Christians must do, what Christian leaders must do, is constantly remember that we serve our God and Maker and Redeemer under the gospel of grace.
Amen! Oh that God would raise up a generation of "ordinary" pastors, missionaries and Christian leaders!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Audio from O.U. Talk Now Available

The audio of my talk, "God of Vengeance, God of Love: Is the God of the OT the God of the NT?" is now available on ITunes. Simply go to the music store and in the search box enter "Ohio Campus Crusade." The first result will be "Ohio University Campus Crusade for Christ." If you subscribe to that, my talk ("Matt Harmon") will be the second most recent one available for download.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Because He is Too Humble to Post it Himself...

Last Sunday Justin Taylor spoke on adoption at Grace Community Bible Church. Particularly interesting is the contrast he draws between adoption in Islamic thought and the Biblical perspective. The message is about 24 minutes long and well worth the time. You can find the link for the message here.

HT: Jeff Brewer

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Do Muslims Worship the Same God as Christians?

One of the first questions in the Q&A time at O.U. was posed by a sociology professor who had done work among Muslims in Indonesia. Her question was simple: "Do Muslims worship the same God as Christians?"

My summary answer was this: the short answer is no. I gave two brief reasons: (1) the NT insists that the one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father (John 5:23); (2) the NT claims that Jesus is God. Since Muslims do not worship Jesus as God, I think it is misleading at best and damaging at worst to say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

Now admittedly that was a simple and short answer; there are more issues to be addressed. That is why I want to point your attention to a recent post by my friend Justin Taylor. He traces the recent important discussion of this question, complete with links to statements by Rick Love (former international director for Frontiers) and the responses by John Piper. These are crucial issues for us as evangelicals to undertstand and to be able to articulate.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Thoughts on My Trip to O.U.

Thanks to all of you who prayed for time at Ohio University. Let me start by saying that God was so kind to me in giving me safety (despite a snowstorm on the way back!), strength, and a calmness in the midst of speaking and answering questions. And I want to express my gratitude to my student Gabe Tribbett, who accompanied me. Our fellowship was one of the highlights of the trip, and I want to especially thank him for typing up a rough transcript of the Q&A session.

My message on Thursday night I spoke at the weekly Campus Crusade meeting--"God of Vengeance, God of Love: Is the God of the OT the God of the NT?" As you might suspect, I argued that they are one and the same. In my 35 minute talk, I tried to make three points that I suggest seeing continuity:

  1. The testimony of the early church, the NT authors and Jesus himself. Here all I wanted to accomplish was to show that they in fact believed that the God who spoke and acted in the OT had now revealed himself definitively in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
  2. God's character is consistent in the OT and NT. Here I argued that the common misconception that the God of the OT is all about wrath and justice while the God of the NT is all about love and mercy is not accurate. God's love and mercy are evident in the OT, and in fact are more prominent than his wrath/justice. God's wrath and justice are evident in the NT, and the person who makes the most frightening statements about hell is Jesus himself.
  3. God's character intensifies in its expression. This is an extension of the previous point. As God progressively reveals himself and his plan for human history in OT and into the NT, the expressions of his character intensify. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than the cross, where Jesus willing takes upon himself the wrath and justice of God so that all who believe in him may experience God's love and mercy.
The following day I held a two-hour Q&A session. I hope to post later in the week some of the dialog from that time. I was grateful that the overall tone of the questions was inquisitive and respectful, even at points where there was substantive disagreement.

On a personal level it was fun to return to my alma mater. It was the first time I had been back since the fall of 2002, and much has changed since then. The former church that my wife and I were married in is now an apartment building! I also had a lot of fun spending time with the director of Campus Crusade for Christ @ O.U., Brian McCollister and his family.

Again, thanks to all who prayed. God is doing some amazing things at O.U. as students are asking these important questions. Please continue to pray for the students and staff of CCC as they continue the conversation.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Is the God of the OT the God of the NT? - OPEN THREAD FOR QUESTIONS

This space is for questions anyone might have who attended the Campus Crusade 180 Meeting from Thursday night, Feb 21. I'll post more later about this event, but at the end of the message promised to provide an open thread for people to post questions.

What's on your mind?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is the God of the OT the God of the NT?

That is the topic I will be addressing at Ohio University this coming Thursday, February 21. I will be speaking at the weekly meeting of Campus Crusade for Christ, which has been putting on a series of messages oriented towards addressing difficult subjects. On Friday afternoon I will be doing a follow-up Q&A time. I am excited to return to my alma mater and be a part of what God is doing there. If you are in the Athens area, please feel free to come out. If you think of it, I would appreciate your prayers. Pray that God would give me clarity of thought and expression, and that he would be at work in the hearts of those who listen.

If you were in my shoes, what are some of the things you would want to point out to these college students?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Galatians 2:2 and Paul's Fear

In describing his second post-conversion trip to Jerusalem (Gal 2:1-10=Acts 11:27-30), Paul indicates that he submitted the gospel he preached before those regarded as pillars in the Jerusalem church (Gal 2:2-10). He did so in private, "for fear that I might be running or had run in vain" (Gal 2:2).

But the exact content of Paul's fear is not spelled out. In the larger context it seems extremely unlikely that Paul was concerned that the content of his gospel message was incorrect. But what exactly then did Paul fear would happen if his presentation of his gospel to the Jerusalem pillars went poorly?

I've got my own answer that I am willing to give in the comments, but I want to hear from you first...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Five Foundations for Unity in the NT

One of the perennial issues when discussing NT Theology is the tension between the diversity of the individual documents and the claim that they contain a unified message. When reading through the NT, it does not take long to realize, for example, that Luke sounds different than John, and Paul different than both of them.

So what basis is there for seeing unity in the midst of such diversity? I suggest the following five foundations, offered in approximate order of significance in my mind.

  1. The various NT authors explicitly or implicitly work from the same basic kerygma. A comparison of the Gospels with the speeches in Acts as well as the teaching in the epistles reveals a basic sequence of events and actions pertaining to Christ that unify their message and establish parameters for true in contrast to false doctrine. Especially helpful in this regard is the work of C.H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Development.
  2. The various NT authors all wrote in the context of the mission of Jesus and the extension of that mission through the church. Each of the NT documents arose in the context of missionary expansion of the church. The Gospels testify to the mission of Jesus, Acts connects the mission of the church to the mission of Jesus, the Epistles address issues arising in the advance of mission, and Revelation describes the consummation of Jesus' mission in a new heaven and new earth. Particularly noteworthy on this point is the work of David Wenham, "Unity and Diversity in the NT," in G.E. Ladd, A Theology of the NT, 712-713.
  3. The various NT authors all claim continuity with and fulfillment of the OT hope. Although done in a variety of ways (promise/fulfillment, typology, salvation-history), all of the NT authors see the person and work of Jesus as the realization of what the OT promised. Note here should be made of C.H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures: The Sub-structure of NT Theology. THe OT supplies the conceptual framework for their understanding of Jesus and significance of his actions.
  4. The divine inspiration of the various NT authors produces a demonstrable unity of thought. I have placed this one fourth for the simple reason that I want to show that arguing for unity in the NT does not exclusively hinge on accepting the inspiration of the NT. Of course, as one who firmly believes in the inspiration of both the OT and NT, it makes sense that there would be unity in the various documents if He was in fact responsible for their production. In one sense then we could argue that the diversity of the NT documents is a product of the individual human authors and their peculiar modes of thought/expression, while their unity is the result of the one Spirit inspiring those different authors to produce exactly what God wants said exactly how he wants it said.
  5. The recognition by the church of these NT documents as inspired and authoritative led them to organize them into the canon. The very fact that the church recognized some documents as authoritative and others as not demonstrates a conviction that there is in fact a core to the apostolic message. While not denying that this was a process not without dispute, the church's recognition of these documents indicates a perceived unity among the 27 documents that should not be dismissed lightly.
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list; no doubt others can think of other reasons for seeing unity in the 27 diverse NT documents. As to the order, I have chosen to prioritize the first three in order to stress that claiming unity in the NT does not rest solely on one's belief in divine inspiration and the acceptance of the canon.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

D.A. Carson & His "Ordinary" Father

Over at the Desiring God Blog, David Mathis has an appetite-whetting post on D.A. Carson's book Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, which is an account of his father's life and ministry. You can read it here.

HT: Justin Taylor