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Books of the Year

Since the year is winding down, I thought I would post my top five books that I read for the first time this year and the top five books published in 2009 that I look forward to reading (hopefully in 2010).

5. Reason for God by Tim Keller


I absolutely love Tim Keller, and I absolutely love this book. I found it to be the most helpful work of practical apologetics that I have encountered. Reason for God is both fair and insightful.

4. Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright

N.T. Wright is always engaging. Surprised by Hope is exceedingly so. This is my favorite of the handful Wright's books that I have read and should be must reading for all in the church. Christianity badly needs to regain the eschatological vision that Bishop Wright presents so that its mission has the necessary fuel and goal.

3. The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hays


Now we're getting into books with a more limited audience. Ethics is a particular interest of mine. I personally found Hays method of utilizi…

Introducing Hermeneutical Frameworks IV

This will be our last post on Hermeneutical frameworks. I also will not be posting this upcoming week. I'll be going back home to Rochester, NY to spend time with our family and friends. In our last post we looked at the rule of faith as a framework within which to operate. The position we will look at today is similar in some senses, in that it allows much more flexibility than the traditional Evangelical position permits. Our fourth position goes further than the 'rule of faith' in that it seeks to place no boundaries upon the interpreter. Obviously, this seems to many to be a highly dangerous position for you could end up denying anything. However, at least those working within a reformed framework would stress that the Holy Spirit will keep them Orthodox.

Why would no boundaries be a good thing? Some have grown tired of seeing a lot of effort expended to answer objections to the doctrine of inerrancy that are raised over issues that sometimes are at best tangential to t…

Introducing Hermeneutical Frameworks III

In the last post we examined the traditional Evangelical hermeneutical method, where inerrancy functions as a key control in interpretation. As I mentioned, though, others don't take this approach. Another very common framework is to interpret using the 'rule of faith.'

Those who hold this view interpret within the 'box' of creedal orthodoxy. Scripture is still fully authoritative in the life of the church, but the way we interpret individual passages is left open as long as one does not deny the basic claims of the creeds of the early church (think Nicea or Chalcedon). Most questions related to historicity of events in the Bible are left open. Thus the boundary has been pushed out further than the traditional Evangelical boundary (inerrancy) and is also different in nature.

When working under the traditional definition of inerrancy, the text of Scripture forms your boundary. You identify its genre and then affirm everything that the text affirms. The rule of faith p…

Introducing Hermeneutical Frameworks II

In the first post in this series I laid out the four general groups into which most Christian interpreters fall on the doctrine of Scripture and how that framework affects their interpretation of texts (and vice versa). We also looked briefly at the first of these four options. Today we will look at the second option, which is the most popular among Evangelical scholars and I believe was the position of the majority of the church throughout its history (even though they generally never articulated it).

Most Evangelicals would affirm the following syllogism:

God is inerrant
The Bible is God's Word
----------------------
Therefore the Bible is inerrant

Inerrancy is typically defined along the lines of, 'the Bible never affirms anything contrary to the truth' and this assumption is extended to both God and the human author.

How does this grid work in action? First, one must determine the genre of the text. The determination of the genre of the text then limits the possible interpret…

Introducing Hermeneutical Frameworks

I have decided not to review the final two sections of 'The Art of Reading Scripture' as they are primarily examples of how to work out methods discussed in the earlier chapters. In lieu of that discussion, I would prefer to lay out a discussion of an important set of practical questions in hermeneutics. When we approach Scripture, what questions should we consider and what are the acceptable outcomes of our inquiry? What presuppositions should we bring to the text about the nature of Scripture? How much should we let our presuppositions drive our exegesis? Is the historical critical method a valid interpretive tool? What if our exegesis drives us in a direction incompatible with our presuppositions? Can what we observe about the nature of Scripture cause us to change our presuppositions?

I think that there are four basic ways or frameworks within which a Christian can operate (other frameworks that I am aware of are incompatible with Christianity in my opinion):
Whatever the Bi…

Book Review: Philippians and Philemon

This month there was nothing that grabbed my attention in the new books section of the library, so I decided to pick up a recent commentary that came out, that of Charles Cousar in the New Testament Library series. I've only extensively used one commentary in this series before, Jonah, so I wasn't completely sure what to expect, but I was, for the most part, pleased.

The introduction to the commentary on Philippians is fairly standard. He believes that Philippians was written from an Ephesian imprisonment and thus was one of Paul's earliest letters. Fee and Bockmuehl have both claimed that Philippians is a letter of friendship, but Cousar is a bit cool on that idea, while not outright rejecting it. He does believe that Philippians is a single letter and not a patchwork of three letters as some have claimed.

Overall I found the commentary proper to be solid. Technical issues were briefly discussed and Cousar would usually give a short explanation explaining his decisions. The…

Orienting Our Expressions of Gratitiude

Do you encourage others by thanking/praising them? Some will not wanting to avoid others from succumbing to pride. Others thank people so effusively and frequently that they seem insincere. How do you strike a balance? We are called to encourage one another. How do we do it rightly?

In A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Carson notes, while discussing on 1 Thessalonians 2:9, that Paul,
encourages Christians by telling them that he thanks God for his grace in their lives. Thus he has simultaneously drawn attention to the Thessalonians' spiritual growth, thereby encouraging them, and insisted that God is the one to be thanked for it, thereby humbling them. There is simply no way that these believers can thoughtfully listen to what Paul says and then smugly pat themselves on the back: God and God alone is to be praised for the signs of grace in their lives. Yet nonetheless they cannot help but feel encouraged to learn that the apostle himself has observed God's work in their lives and…

The Art of Reading Scripture: Chapters 8 and 9

I'm actually going to skip chapter 7, 'Reading the Scriptures Faithfully in a Postmodern Age' by William Johnson because the issue is too difficult and outside of my area of 'expertise.' I would need to be much more informed about postmodern philosophy.

The eighth essay, 'Preaching Scripture Faithfully in a Post-Christendom Church,' by Christine McSpadden was a pleasant surprise. McSpadden is a priest in the Episcopal diocese of California, and if you know about what's been going on in the Episcopal church lately, you may understand why I did not come to the essay with the highest of expectations. McSpadden's advice is mainly geared towards those in mainline denominations, but I think we in the Evangelical church can gain from her insight as well. McSpadden's general hermeneutical methods are in line with the rest of of the authors of this book, so even though she does discuss hermeneutical issues throughout, I want to focus more on her homiletic…

The Art of Reading Scripture: Chapter 6

Chapter 6 of the Art of Reading Scripture is titled, 'Christ was like St. Francis' and was written by James Howell. The main point of the essay is that if we truly understand the text, then we embody it through the way we live. While that main point is straightforward and uncontroversial, the way he makes it is very thought-provoking.

His title, 'Christ was like St. Francis,' is provocative. Normally we would put it the other way around. Howell's point in framing the title this way is interesting. In an extended section of the essay, Howell lays out many examples of ways that St. Francis imitated Christ in very literal fashion. He took Scriptures like Luke 9:3 'take nothing for the journey' (TNIV) very literally. Thus he gives us in concrete human form a later picture of what Jesus lived like. Often we rationalize our shortcomings when we compare our lives to Jesus by saying that, 'we're only human while Jesus was divine.' However seeing how the …

The Art of Reading Scripture: Chapter 5

Today we will look at chapter 5 (I'll post on chapter 6 on Thursday) of 'The Art of Reading Scripture.' The fifth essay, by Brian Daley, is titled, 'Is Patristic Exegesis Still Usable? Some Reflections on Early Christian Interpretation of the Psalms.' His main goal in this essay is to examine how we might learn from Patristic exegetical method. Daley begins by noting that for the past century and a half that we've largely ignored Patristic exegesis. The historical critical method has been dominant, and all other approaches to the text have been ignored until recently. We had thought that we could study history scientifically and come up with objective conclusions of what happened (or what the original meaning of the text was) and why. The problem is that an underlying principle of this method is that natural events are assumed to have natural causes and we, being outside the event/text, can objectively measure what happened, which is an athiestic and arrogant a…

Book Review: The Early Preaching of Karl Barth

The book review for November is 'The Early Preaching of Karl Barth.' This is a collection of fourteen sermons preached by Barth between 1917 and 1920 while serving as a pastor in Safenwill, Switzerland. Following each sermon William Willimon provides us with a brief commentary. Unlike Willimon, I certainly am no expert on Barth, all I have read is the first volume of Church Dogmatics. Thus, I don't think that I am in too much of a position to engage on a detailed level with these sermons. However I will make some general comments that I hope are useful if you are thinking about checking out this book.

Because these are sermons, this book is much more accessible than Church Dogmatics, however, they do not form a good introduction to Barthian theology. What struck me most, especially in the beginning of the book (the sermons are arranged chronologically), was how much his theology developed over time. His early sermons sound, in some ways, very un-Barthian. Early on, especial…

The Art of Reading Scripture: Chapters 3 and 4

For those of you who were overwhelmed by the length of my last post on The Art of Reading Scripture, this post is a bit shorter. The third essay, written by Richard Bauckham is titled, 'Reading Scripture as a Coherent Story.' Bauckham begins by explaining what it means for Scripture to be a unified narrative. It doesn't mean that all of scripture is narrative, or that it has the coherence of a single author work. Rather, its coherence can be seen in the way that different books of the Bible, by different authors, interact with one another. They summarize each other, intentionally build off of one another, quote each other, allude to each other, etc. There is an attempt by later writers to show how they are continuing the story of earlier texts (this is not true only of the NT, we see the same phenomenon in the OT as well). While the whole Bible, at the human level, was clearly composed by many very different people with distinct perspectives and purposes, we can still see…

Giving thanks for the misguided who cause us grief

I was inspired both by Pastor Dave's reflection on Paul's various introductory thanksgivings at church this past Sunday and the fact that Thanksgiving is this week to write a few reflections throughout the week on selected thanksgiving's of Paul. Today's reflection comes from 1 Corinthians 1:4-9:
4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (TNIV). Paul had to write a difficult letter to Corinth. The church was badly fragmented, it tolerated gross sin, misunderstood spiritua…

The Art of Reading Scripture: Chapters 1 and 2

I am grouping my review of the first two essays together, because they both impinge upon the question of how Scripture is to be used inside the church. The second chapter, 'Scripture's Authority in the Church' by Robert Jenson is the more basic of the two essays, so I will begin the discussion there, and then move to Ellen Davis' essay.

The easiest way to describe Jenson's essay is that in many ways it is an outworking or application of Barth's understanding of Scripture . Jenson makes five main points in his essay:

The only meaningful way for a Christian to read Scripture is in a Christian way (pp. 27-29).Each passage of Scripture is to be read for its contribution to the grander narrative that Scripture tells (pp. 29-30).We can only read Scripture as characters within the narrative of Scripture (pp. 30-34).Our reading of the Old Testament must assume the presupposition that it is Christian Scripture (pp. 34-36).The authority of Scripture is something to experie…

The Art of Reading Scripture: An Introduction

When I posted last week that we'd be starting The Art of Reading Scripture by reviewing chapters 1 and two on Monday I didn't realize that there would be so much in the introduction and nine theses that I would need to write a separate post about them. However, a separate post that introduces the book would be beneficial, so we'll embark upon that now.

The first thing to note is that this book is the work of a group of contributors that extends beyond just Richard Hays and Ellen Davis. It is the work of a collection of scholars from diverse disciplines (OT, NT, systematics and historical theology) and two practicing ministers.

In the introduction, Hays and Davis lay out four very important questions to consider (pp. xiv-xv):
Is the Bible authoritative for the faith and practice of the church? If so, in what way?What practices of reading offer the most appropriate approach to understanding the Bible?How does historical criticism illumine or obscure Scripture's message?How …

How Jude Dealt with Division, In Canonical Context - Part 2

Earlier in the week I randomly picked Risto Saarinen's commentary on Jude in the Brazos Theological Commentary series, and found it to be very enlightening. In a previous post I commented that Jude's approach to those influenced by the false teachers (and possibly to the false teachers themselves) was one filled with mercy. That claim is true, but what I failed to see is how Jude substantiates it.

Saarinen points out, as did Bauckham, that when Jude discusses OT and deutero-canonical texts discussing God's judgment (vs. 5, 9, 14), that Jesus is the one coming to judge. The move that Saarinen makes at this point is worth pointing out:
The Epistle of Jude performs its christological rearrangement of Jewish texts in a manner that is clear and provocative. The Lord, who saved a people out of Egypt and will come to execute a judgment on all, is Jesus Christ...When Jesus Christ is portrayed as a judge in this manner, on the one hand, he takes the traditional roll of divine judge. …

Baptism

In the next month or two I hope to start a new study on baptism.

I know Everett Ferguson's book, Baptism in the Early Church is supposed to be excellent. I also know about the different systematic theologies out there. What else is there? What are some books, or parts of books that were helpful to you? I want to read a wide spectrum, so I'd like to get a diversity of view points and to mix in plenty of older works with the newer ones.

N.T. Wright on the Sacraments

NT Wright delivered a few talks at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in 2007 on the Sacraments. They're well worth listening to. One thing he said in 'Part Two' I think is particularly worth reflecting on:

'Of course God welcomes us as we are, but God's welcome never leaves us as we are. Thank God. God's inclusiveness is always a transforming inclusiveness and that is precisely what baptism is all about.'

This Blog's Direction

This is a note about the upcoming direction of this blog. One conclusion that I believe God has been driving me towards lately is to see that there are inadequacies in the historical-critical method. While beneficial in many ways, the historical-critical method is not the be all and end all in terms of biblical interpretation. In fact its quite inadequate for producing robust theology. While not abandoning the historical-critical method all together, I want to try to achieve a more theological reading of Scripture. To this end I want to read and blog through three recent books on the interplay of Scripture and theology.

First will be The Art of Reading Scripture by Richard Hays and Ellen Davis.

Second will be The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology by Kevin Vanhoozer.

Third will be Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Studies by Markus Bockmuehl.

After that I hope to test out what I learn on the book of Galatians. I invite you to join me on this j…

Commentary Reviews: Philemon

There is an overabundance of excellent commentaries available on Philemon, especially of more advanced commentaries. Regrettably, I had to omit several outstanding commentaries from my arsenal. So, just because I don't review Dunn, Harris, Wilson, or Fitzmyer doesn't mean I don't think they're worth consulting. It just means that I didn't have the time to incorporate all of them into my study, and given the audience of my studies, lay Bible study leaders at my church, it was best to omit commentaries that are more technical in nature.


With that said, my favorite commentary, without question, was Doug Moo's in the Pillar series. I originally read through it about a year ago and I wasn't overly impressed. This time around, when I really dug into it, I found it to be extremely helpful. One thing I liked was that he confined most of his discussion on the issue of slavery to the introduction. This is a good move because the issue of slavery is not a primary in Ph…

Philemon and Slavery, In Canonical Context

Slavery is probably the main issue on the conscience of most people when reading Philemon. This is a bit unfortunate. The main thrust of the book is about how relationships are configured in light of our union in Christ with fellow believers. I would also say that my earlier post on the example of imputation to be a far more central lesson to draw from Philemon than any conclusion that we draw from this post. However, given the history of the church and the present state of society, it is necessary to discuss the issue of slavery in Philemon and the wider context of Scripture.

One of the biggest 'problems' for the Bible is its seeming acceptance of slavery. The Old Testament seems to have different voices on the issue. At points it goes as far as prohibiting Israelites from enslaving other Israelites (Lev. 25:39-43). At other points it shows an understanding of the status and value of slaves that is no different than that of other Ancient Near Eastern nations (Ex. 21:28-32). Th…

Theology in Action: Imputation

As I mentioned in this post, I wanted to give an example of what it looks like for theology to be lived out. I selected imputation for two reasons, one convenient in that I came across it in my study of Philemon, and the other intentional in that I wanted to pick a doctrine that seems esoteric.

First let's begin by explaining imputation. The main idea of the doctrine of imputation claims that an exchange took place between us and Christ. When Jesus died on the cross, he bore the wrath of God that we deserve so that if we have faith in him we no longer have to face God's wrath. Here's where imputation comes in: our sinfulness was credited to Jesus as if he had sinned ('God made him who had no sin to be sin for us' - 2 Cor. 5:21a TNIV). Our sin was counted as if it was Jesus sin which, since Jesus paid the penalty for our sins means that our sins are wiped away. The imputation part of this, again, is our sins being credited to Jesus. This is not enough for us to be ac…

Philemon 8-25

We decided to split Philemon into two sections, so this will be the last post of my verse by verse notes, but like Jude, stick around for a few posts on the theology of Philemon and commentary reviews.

8-16: Paul's main goal is to reconcile Onesimus to Philemon. Onesimus was Philemon's slave who had run away from his master. Somehow, he came into contact with Paul, who was under house arrest in Rome.

There are four distinct instances in this passage where we see Paul attempting to smooth things over with Philemon. He does this when:
He informs Philemon of Onesiums' conversion (vs. 10).Paul refers to Onesimus as his son, stressing the relationship that Paul has to Onesimus (vs. 10).He stresses Onesimus' new found usefulenss (vs. 11, 13).Paul calls Onesimus 'his very heart' again stressing the intimacy of relationship (vs. 12).
8-10: Here Paul starts to get into the heart of the matter. What should Philemon do with Onesiums? Paul, as an apostle, has the authority to …