December 16, 2010

The future of publishing and the e-book

Since I have worked in academic publishing, and since I continue to do so as a freelancer, I have a lot of interest in the future of the book. As an avowed bibliophile, I have personally shuddered in horror at the thought of replacing a beautiful bound volume with a plastic tablet with e-ink (they're very cool by the way, and I may even consider getting one in the coming years). Or even worse, replacing a beautifully filled shelf (or even room) in the same way. But while e-books are certainly here to stay, and are indeed putting pressure on an already tight-margin enterprise, I hold out a lot of hope that the book's demise is not anywhere in the near future. And, a great quote I read on the IVP Addenda & Errata blog this afternoon put the current e-reader trend in great perspective. Dan Reid of IVP writes, "As IVP’s Andy Le Peau likes to say, “The e-book is the new mass-market paperback.” That, at least, is a snapshot of e-publishing in the fall of 2010." And I think it's both true and somewhat encouraging. The books I'd consider putting on an e-reader are quick-read fiction, like Dan Brown or John Grisham, books most readers buy in mass-market editions (which aren't very lucrative for publishers anyway except in large quantities). So the landscape of publishing is certainly changing, but some of the new developments may not be quite as dire as the may at first seem. Long live the book!

December 14, 2010

IVP Black Dictionaries of the NT Compendium

While browsing my local academic library, I came across a volume I didn't know existed, a relatively immense one-volume compendium of the critically acclaimed dictionary series from IVP. It's about one thousand pages, and has selected entries from the four NT dictionaries. The entries aren't shortened, they've just been selective in which ones they include (which is a huge plus, leaving the entries in tact). And here's where I almost fell off my chair. When I got home, I found it on Amazon. And it's available new for $13.32! Each one of these dictionaries retails for $37.50, and you can't find them used for much less than that. So, yes, you may get less; I already have the Paul volume and I'd love all the others. But this may be a great solution in the mean time, a way to get some really great scholarship in a readily accessible and easily affordable format!

December 04, 2010

Just arrived: Thielman's Ephesians

Frank Thielman's new commentary on Ephesians in the BECNT series just arrived on my desk, and I'm very excited about it. I've greatly appreciated his scholarship and his take on Paul. I was first introduced to him through his excellent commentary on Philippians in the NIVAC series, and subsequently have read his two books on the Law, Paul and the Law and The Law and the New Testament. I've only begun to skim this commentary, but I was immediately struck by the closing lines of the Author's Preface:

My prayer is that the commentary would quickly get out of the way after bringing the reader to the text, and that the text would, in its turn, help the reader understand the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ.

That beautifully wrought sentiment is certainly my own prayer for all of my studies of the Bible and of theology (even if it is too often unrealized), and it is encouraging to see it so well articulated at the outset of a commentary. I look forward to jumping in.

November 25, 2010

Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy.

I loved this book! And I hope you read it. That's the only way I can start this review. Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, has written a powerful apologetic for that important Christian ministry, but more than that, he has challenged evangelicalism to espouse a fully orbed gospel of the kingdom.

The book is part testimony and autobiography, with Stearns recounting his own journey from new Christian to successful corporate executive to president of World Vision. And it is a great story, easy to relate to, and well told. I found it easy to relate to Stearns' journey, his excitement for the gospel but also his reluctance to step out of his comfort zone into new territories. His story is written with obvious honesty and candor, and I thin it lays important groundwork for and integrates well with the book's overall message about broadening the way we understand the gospel and our role to spread the gospel to the world.

The core vision of the book is about getting beyond a traditional view of the gospel as an "otherworldly" message of hope for the hereafter to a Jesus-centered kingdom vision about changed lives, spiritually and physically. We are called not only to preach but to also embody the gospel. "This gospel that we have been given—the whole gospel—is God's vision for a new way of living. It inaugurates the reality of God dwelling within us, His followers, no longer in a temple in Jerusalem. . . . God's kingdom was going to begin on earth through the changed lives of His followers, and its hall markes would be forgiveness, love, compassion, justice, and mercy" (276).

Stearns is well aware of the dangers of preaching a "works" righteousness, and he addresses that concern a couple of times in his writing. He is also aware that some may want to read his message as a call away from traditional evangelistic preaching to a social gospel, a charge he anticipates and subverts a number of times as well. In all, I think Stearns has done the church a great service in writing this call to follow Jesus in his kingdom ministry. For if God truly loves the world, aren't we going to do everything in our power to overcome disparity, disease, poverty, and oppression as we do everything we can to overcome spiritual blindness, poverty, and oppression. And, in fact, the two can't and shouldn't be separated. For each side of the gospel fits with the other: a preaching without works of love is only words, and a life of compassionate action is one of the best apologias for the gospel we preach. Highly recommended.

November 24, 2010

Free MP3s on Amazon

I've got to say one of my favorite Black Friday deals in past years from Amazon has been $3 in free MP3 downloads, and they're at it again. They've sent out their code by email, but in case you're not on their email list, here it is: GET3MP3S. Click on one of my two suggestions to the left, a couple of deals I picked up (you won't have to buy one of them, but they'll take you to the MP3 portion of Amazon's site). On the right hand side of the page, there is a green box with two big buttons, "Buy this MP3 . . ." and "Give this album . . ." Click on the text link below those that reads "Redeem a gift card or promotion. Then cut and past the code above into the box. It should credit your account $3, which you can then use to download anything from Amazon's site. That means three totally free .99 MP3s, or three dollars off any album. You'll only have to pay if you spend more than $3, but the first $3 is totally free and without obligation. So pick up a few of your favorite songs.

November 15, 2010

Great Deal on Amazon on Fee's Philippians

I stumbled on this spectacular deal on Amazon while I was browsing the NICNT list, and just had to pass it along. They are currently listing Gordon Fee's wonderful Philippians commentary in the NICNT at 50% off, selling for $22.18. I greatly appreciated his work in this commentary, with both helpful scholarship and warm pastoral insight. Plus his extensive discussion of Philippians 2:6-11 is well done. So pop over and get this one if you don't have it already.

November 02, 2010

Government in Isaiah

On this US election day, a few words from John Oswalt's (excellent) commentary on Isaiah 1-39 in the NICOT series, which I am working my way through in conjunction with a Bible Study Fellowship study on Isaiah this year.

"That pride and arrogance which exalts humanity issues in an adulation of the 'great' men of society. But that very adulation renders them less and less able to lead their people. For just leadership can only come from persons who know their own weaknesses and corruptibility. Furthermore, when such a person knows that he or she is ultimately responsible to God, the task is approached with awe and dedication. But the person who believes, consciously or otherwise, that humanity is ultimate can all too easily accept the glowing things that people say about him or her . . . and the only goal is to keep them saying those things. 'Government' disappears as the leaders pander more and more to the ever-changing whims of a fickle people." (253; on Isaiah 9:12-16)

September 10, 2010

Max Lucado, Outlive Your Life

Though it's not my usual academic fare, I offer below a review I just finished for Max Lucado's newest book. In brief, great book. Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy.

Outlive Your Life
is a compelling call to shake our complacency and rediscover our world through God's eyes. In these fifteen lessons shaped by the book of Acts, Max Lucado challenges his readers to look at their lives, their surroundings, and especially the people who surround them with a fresh and God-shaped perspective. Taking a cue from the way the gospel revolutionized the disciples and their ministry, even in uncomfortable and counter-cultural or even counter-intuitive ways, we too are to take up the kingdom life.

With his characteristic talent for pastoral insight, but in a way that surpasses other books of his that I have read, Lucado makes a clear and impassioned plea for so much more than cultural Christianity. He thinks of our complacent life like living in a clamshell: "Most of us have learned to insulate ourselves against the hurt of the hurting. Haven't we?" (23) Instead, God calls us "to unshell [ourselves] and partner with [Him] in [His] mission of love" (29). And that is what this book is all about, a new perspective, that looks beyond ourselves and our own interests to the interests of others, to the very interests of God. One great but uncomfortable point that typifies his challenge to readers is his assertion that "Poverty is not the lack of charity but the lack of justice" (106). We can't truly be Christ-followers and live life blind to those around us, blind to suffering, indifferent to injustice. Instead, we need to "outlive our lives," with a broader view and a renewed call to action.

I am happy to pass along that I enjoyed this book. It makes a great point (similar to Richard Stearns' The Hole in Our Gospel), is easily readable, and contains some great stories and illustrations for his points. And it serves as a clarion call to a broader vision, renewed commitment to prayer, and imperative for action. I hope this is his most-read book ever.

August 29, 2010

The Passing of Theologian Donald Bloesch

Michael Bird at Euangelion notes the passing of theologian Donald Bloesch. I am very saddened to hear of his death. I have greatly appreciated his thoughtful theological writing. Bloesch, most notably for me, was an evangelical who remained within his mainline tradition (United Church of Christ), and wrote out of that context. This helped produce, I think, a wonderful blend of the biblical, historical, and theological. He drew heavily, though not uncritically, on Karl Barth. His great 7-volume systematic theology, Christian Foundations, contains some real jems: I especially appreciate God the Almighty, Holy Scripture,  and The Holy Spirit. I found great solace in his writing, especially as I myself was seeking to do theology out of a mainline context throughout Seminary while maintaining my evangelical sensibilities, and in fact seeking to enrich my thinking in both ways (drawing on the wonderful riches of the mainline heritage, i my case Lutheran, while also preserving the great and deep evangelical currents and especially the close ties to the Bible). Bloesch served as a great encouragement in this sense as this is precisely what his project accomplishes.

I recall one particular enlightenment I gained from him, on how to think through the meaning and purpose of the sacraments. It was through Bloesch that I gained an appreciation for the great nourishment and value of the sacraments, and how they could and would be a locus of the activity of the Holy Spirit, without at the same time falling prey to a view that attributes some type of automatic or salvation-giving power to the action in and of itself.

In all, I owe a great debt to Bloesch, and will continue to gain great insight from his work, which I richly commend. May he rest overjoyed in God's gracious presence.

August 08, 2010

M. Daniel Carroll R., Christians at the Border

Christians at the Border is a thorough and timely study of the issue of immigration in America. Written by an Old Testament scholar who is a Guatemalan-American, and who lives and teaches on both sides of our Southern border, the perspectives Carroll R. brings are essential. He carefully looks at the situation today, showing the great complexity which must be comprehended as we look at immigration (including things like where people come from and why the come, the economic pressures on both sides of the borders, and the broader history of immigration in America). He then looks back into the Old and New Testaments to see how their witness can be brought to bear. In both of these areas, carefully looking at today's context and exploring the biblical context and teaching, the book shines.

The fundamental insight that Carroll R. uses to reframe the debate, and one that I think is essential as we move forward, is to recognize that the debate today must be shifted from one about "immigration" as a concept to a debate and discussion about immigrants, human beings made in God's image who deserve our respect, care, and concern. Especially as Christians, we must come to grips with the sojourners among us (who are often, incidentally, fellow Christians), and must seek both temporary and long-term solutions that create and maintain justice as well as express and embody our identity as God's agents on earth.

The discussion in America today about immigration is a great opportunity for the body of Christ to exemplify what it means to love God and neighbor. There is no doubt that we must get beyond entrenched political positions and party alignments, as well as beyond oversimplifications and false dichotomies and seek new ways of of living and acting as Christians in the world. As Carrol R. concludes, "The decisions that are made and courses of action that are recommended [in a Christian approach to immigration] should be commensurate with the life of Jesus—his actions, his teaching, his cross."

I highly and unreservedly recommend this book. It is very readable, just as it is also thorough and careful. First-hand experience is melded nicely with research, and careful biblical reasoning is brought to bear with wisdom on a divisive issue with an always irenic yet prophetic tone. Read this book and be challenged!

July 30, 2010

New fiction book by Alister McGrath

Chosen Ones (Aedyn Chronicles, The)Theologian Alister McGrath is a prolific author and profound evangelical thinker. His work on historical theology, especially on justification, has been influential and important, as has his recent Scientific Theology trilogy and his critique of Richard Dawkins. To his already broad and prolific publishing portfolio his adding a fantasy series, the Aedyn Chronicles. Gary Burge reviews the first book in Books & Culture. Burge though the book was fine but didn't stand up to comparison with the legendary Narnia chronicles by C. S. Lewis, which stands as an obvious parallel. Even if it doesn't live up to that spectacularly high standard, I'm excited to give it a read, and will be sure to blog some responses after I've been through it.

June 03, 2010

Some forthcoming titles from both Eerdmans and IVP Academic.

Eerdmans has put up their fall schedule (HT: Nijay Gupta). Among the many notable titles are a book by Miroslav Volf on the use of scripture and theology, a new Pillar commentary on 1 Corinthians, and two notable additions to the NICNT series, John (which I noted a month or two ago) by J. Ramsey Michaels and James by Scot McKnight. It's hard to say what will find its way onto my shelves, but both of the NICNT volumes have some interest, and Volf is one of those writers I hate to neglect. McKnight is the same, and James has been an area of growing interest for me. But sure to be some good books forthcoming.

IVP Academic also has some notable books on the way. First, worth mentioning is the second volume of Ben Witherington's massive NT theology, The Indelible Image, released recently. I've been loving the first volume, and look forward to digging into his synthesis in the second volume. They also have some forthcoming titles worth noting. Alister McGrath has a book coming out on discipleship and the mind, and the prolific N. T. Wright has a small book titled Small Faith Great God slated for November.

May 03, 2010

Paul Copan, "True for You but Not for Me"

True for You, But Not for Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith
Thanks to Bethany House for the review copy. In this second edition of "True For You But Not For Me," philosopher Paul Copan lays out a very clear and readable exposition of the philosophical foundations for Christian belief. The book is oriented around responses to common objections, with each chapter focusing on a particular slogan or objection, such as "It's all a matter of perspective," or "Christianity is arrogant and imperialistic." The chapters are divided up into five parts, which move in progression from the general concept of truth (looking at relativism and moral relativism in parts one and two), to the basic truth of a God-centered worldview (religions relativism, part three), to the centrality of Christ (parts four and five). This organization mirrors Copan's overarching method for apologetics, what he calls "Truth-God-Jesus," asserting that an understanding of the existence and importance of truth will provide the foundation for a genuine belief in God, which will in turn provide the necessary framework for recognition of Jesus Christ as the only way to be saved.

A few notes about the content, which I won't otherwise attempt to summarize here because of the breadth of the treatment. First, he emphasizes over and over (to good effect) the exclusivity of supposed "relativist" philosophies, whether in regard to truth, morality, or religion. He also engages John Hick in extended dialogue in part three regarding religious pluralism. Also worthy of note is that part five consists of an extended discussion of the fate of the unevangelized, with a number of live evangelical options presented and considered (he seems to lean toward a middle-knowledge view, which he ends with).

Copan argues very clearly, and lays out complex issues in a helpful and accessible way. Each chapter is concluded with a bullet-point summary of the important arguments made in the chapter, making the book a ready reference. Copan also demonstrates broad familiarity with the biblical text and up-to-date knowledge of a good range of contemporary biblical studies (with well-placed references to, for example, Richard Bauckham, N. T. Wright, Douglas Moo, Ben Witherington, etc.).

In all, I would say Copan's book achieves its aims admirably. It will serve Christians well who want to better understand their faith and who want to know how to respond to or how to maintain their faith in the face of many common and often vexing objections.

April 26, 2010

Steve Sonderman, How to Build a Life-Changing Men's Ministry

How to Build a Life-Changing Men's Ministry: Practical Ideas and Insights for Your ChurchThanks to Bethany House the review copy. I am involved in leadership of the adult ministries area at my church, and we have been looking to expand our men's ministry, so it was with great interest that I delved into this book. Sonderman passes on a lot of experience in this informative book about building a men's ministry. A few major emphases come across. One is the need to proceed slowly and deliberately, taking time to build a leadership team and bathing the effort in prayer, surveying the men in your church to gauge interest and needs, and building up incrementally from a foundation. A second emphasis is on having a mission statement for the ministry, and likewise always remaining cognizant of the mission and purpose of each event (does this fit in with our mission?). A third emphasis is on the importance of small groups to real life change. A last emphasis is on the need for careful planning and delegation, bringing many men into the preparation for and conduct of ministry events.

It is obvious, as you read this book, that Sonderman has learned many lessons from his years of experience, both in his own church and in his networking and speaking across the country, and those lessons are passed along as he goes. I also appreciate the balance of both practical wisdom and strategic thinking that comes across in these pages. He helps you both to think big picture about what a men's ministry is as why to do it, as well as how to have a Saturday morning breakfast that works. In all, I found this to be a great resource for thinking about and planning a men's minsitry.

April 25, 2010

Commentary Recommendations by John Walton had a link on their blog recently to the Wheaton College website of Professor John Walton, a professor of OT there, and the author of The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (which incidentally was a really fascinating book which I hope to review in due course). At the bottom of his page you will find a link to a PDF of recommended commentaries. I always enjoy seeing what learned people recommend in the way of commentaries and commentary series. I recommend perusing it at your leisure, especially if you will find yourself in the marked for an OT commentary in the near future.

April 24, 2010

Eerdmans new release schedule

Nijay Gupta points out that Eerdmans has put out their summer release schedule here. I'm always excited to see what they've got coming down the pike. Especially noteworthy over the next few months is the NICNT volume on John, which will be getting an update by J. Ramsey Michaels. That is certainly a volume to anticipate.

April 07, 2010

Michael Bird, The Saving Righteousness of God

It is a sad irony that some of the books I enjoy the most are the ones that languish on my to-be-reviewed shelf the longest. I think it's partly that I want to do them justice. And this one by Bird has been on my shelf since last fall—a testimony to its value, not its unimportance. And because I can't stand to see it sit there any longer, I offer instead this short inadequate notice to say it was truly a great book. I've been greatly enjoying, over the past year or so, delving deeply in to the world of Pauline theology, but that joy has been often tempered by frustration or even angst at the fragmented world of Pauline scholarship: so much seems contested these days, with many scholars working at cross purposes. And much of the debate is far too acrimonious. But Bird's offering in the Paternoster Monographs series is truly a gem. It offers great exegetical insight into Paul's letters, a clear-headed appraisal of what is important to the Apostle, and a constructive proposal that integrates the fruit of both the "traditional" reading of Paul and an open but critical inclusion of the "new perspective" on Paul and other contemporary approaches and estimations of the Apostle. In short, even beyond the great wealth of knowledge on Paul and his understanding of God's saving righteousness, Bird's book gives me great hope that especially the divide between old and new perspectives on Paul will be transcended as we move forward. This book is truly a must-read for anyone interested in Paul, the new Perspective, Romans, or even the New Testament more generally.

April 05, 2010

Pistis Christou and the Law

I'm reading through Galatians as I work my way through Frank Thielman's Paul and the Law. And I have been overwhelmed by Paul's logic in Galatians 3 in regard to Christ and the Law. In verse 22, Paul writes that everything was "locked up" under sin so that the promise could be given "through faith in Jesus Christ . . . to those who believe." I am well aware that the debate surrounding the various constructions and uses of pistis Christou as objective or subjective genitive is far from settled at this juncture, it has at least provided the impetus for me to look with new eyes at this passage, and to discover what is plainly there with regard to Paul's logic for why the law is in place (and in fact the reading doesn't seem to change substantively with subjective or objective renderings of the genitive construction). Paul seems to be saying that the law isn't opposed to the promise, but is in fact the necessary precondition of, and instrument through which Christ's faithfulness accomplishes our justification. The law provides in a sense the mechanism through which justification on our behalf by Christ occurs, as Christ's faithfulness under the law yields forth in God's abundant gift of life. The law is thus fulfilled and the promise is then extended to all people without the the constraint of the law, which has fulfilled its purpose in Christ. In a sense, instead of thinking of Christ as circumventing the law to bring salvation by faith (a type of theology that may at times rest just beneath the surface in my own thinking), Christ brings that salvation precisely through the law, which was God's ordained mechanism to bring blessing and life from death, even as the gift is now offered apart from that same law.

March 17, 2010

David Murrow, The Map: The Way of All Great Men

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy. In The Map, David Murrow, the author of Why Men Hate Going to Church, uses the metaphor of a map, along with a creatively told fictional tale of its discovery, to describe the spiritual journey of a man. He begins with a ten-chapter tale of the map's discovery in an ancient manuscript in a Grecian monastery by the monk Gerasimos, and of his own involvement in the project as a journalist and writer who could popularize the discovery. But things aren't so simple when he discovers he is being pursued by a mysterious group with unclear motives. Someone must want the map for personal gain. David goes to the monastery to meet with Gerasimos, and he is taught by the monk about the journey the map describes. He is then finally introduced to the map.

The map itself, described in an ancient document entitled "The Three Journeys of Jesus," is actually a key to understanding Jesus own life as depicted in the Gospel of Matthew as three journeys, submission, strength, and sacrifice—three journeys that all men are to emulate in a life of discipleship.

In the second half of the book, following on this interesting fictional account, Murrow fleshes out these three journeys he finds in Matthew's gospel. The first, submission, is found in the early part of the Gospel (chs 1–7). It entails a journey toward the feminine, and is characterized by submission to God. The second is strength, and is found in Matthew 8–25. It is a journey of assertion and strength, a journey toward the masculine. The final journey is sacrifice (Matt 26–28), a journey back in the feminine direction, focused on handing over control, passing on responsibility, training up the next generation.

I found much of value in Murrow's creatively shaped handbook on male discipleship. I think he has indeed picked up three important themes of discipleship and described them well. His assertion that he has found a hidden map in the Gospel of Matthew is more tenuous, I would think, though that doesn't totally undermine the key insights. I also found his description of these stages or journeys in terms of masculine and feminine as a mixed bag. In some senses, it is helpful to see how these stages relate to typical tendencies or traits aligned with one gender, and to warn of the pitfalls that might be typical of especially men, means it has its use. Though in a more absolute way I don't think they were necessary for the book's key insight. In terms of a book directed toward men, and the vision of male discipleship it forms, I think Murrow's book has much value. It is a helpful corrective to some male-directed books that seem to glorify masculine traits and tendencies at the expense of important biblical themes like submission and sacrifice. It also takes a swipe at visions of Jesus (and of the Christian life) that are only meek and mild. So there is no doubt the book has great value in striking out against those two extremes.

In all, I found a few points on which to quibble, but I clearly think Murrow has identified three important themes in the life of the disciple, packaged them creatively with a fictional tale and a helpful map, and directed them well to a male audience. I hope this book is read widely and that it engenders a dialogue about the shape and purpose of the Christian life, especially the Christian life of a man.

March 16, 2010

The Hermeneutics of Childhood

I've got twin two-year-olds at home, so I'm pretty immersed in their world. One of the really fascinating things I've noticed over the past year or so is their ability to filter the world, and especially unfamiliar things, through their past experiences. I can't even count how many times it happens (it's pretty much constant), but one recent example gives the feel. They have a little Yatzee battery-powered game that they got from their beloved grandpa. But they don't treat it like a game, or even like some random object that beeps. Instead, they think of it, and use it, as a phone. Because it's roughly the same shape and size as many people's digital phones. So they faithfully walk around pushing buttons and talking on it. And that assumption on their part puts something with which they have no familiarity into their world in a familiar place. And as I said, the number of examples could multiply endlessly. But what this got me thinking about is how nicely this illustrates the need for careful hermeutical reflection when reading, especially the Bible. I'm reading Frank Thielman's Paul and the Law right now, which I'm greatly enjoying, and the need for awareness of one's own context (so we don't too quickly find a Paul that fits comfortably into our own setting), as well as an awareness of the apostle's setting, are essential to reading Paul faithfully. I think there's a more developed reflection hidden in here somewhere, but it was an idea I didn't want to loose, so you get it only partially formed, for what it's worth.

February 23, 2010

New Ancient Temple Found

Ben Witherington points out the release of an important, paradigm-shifting discovery of an ancient temple complex of massive proportions in Turkey. The complex, dating from around 11,500 years ago, predates the pyramids and stonehenge by thousands of years. You can read about in Prof. Witherington's blog post above, as well as the Newsweek article. This is a fascinating discovery, and it will be interesting to see its wider ramifications, especially in the more narrow field of Biblical Archaeology, and the light it sheds on the Biblical history accounts. One quote from the Newsweek article struck me as interesting, and also points to the importance of this discovery for understanding ancient cultures:

"Schmidt's thesis is simple and bold: it was the urge to worship that brought mankind together in the very first urban conglomerations. The need to build and maintain this temple, he says, drove the builders to seek stable food sources, like grains and animals that could be domesticated, and then to settle down to guard their new way of life. The temple begat the city."

This discovery's announcement comes on the heels of another announcement from Israel relating to a structure possibly relating to the time of David and Solomon. See Darrel Bock's blog for more info on that interesting discovery. Lots going on in archaeology today!

February 20, 2010

BW3 on Holy Discontent

I had a chance to spend some great time with some men from my church this morning at our monthly breakfast. Our discussion topic was about how you balance safety and risk, balance day-to-day needs with eternal priorities. It was a great opportunity to reflect on how we make choices: are the ways we actually think and decide and act really consistent with what we value most highly? It is such great food for thought. I've been thinking since last fall about Col 3 and the theme of having our mind set on things above, something in which I think I often fall short. It's not a call to escapism but instead to living with a baptized imagination for how our lives could be.

Then I got home and read a great blog post from Ben Witherington, which I'm excerpting here:

St. Paul puts it well--- "not that I have already obtained all this (i.e. perfection, full maturity, becoming Christ like, the resurrection etc.) or have already arrived at my final goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me. Brothers and sisters I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do. Forgetting what is behind and straining forward towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3.12-14)

Now we have gotten to the nub of the matter. Paul is talking about doing, a doing which leads to the right end. He expresses his holy discontent not with his circumstances, not with his situation, not with his mortal frame, not with how God made him, but with the fact that he has not yet arrived where God ultimately wants him to be in his life. Indeed, none of us have done so, who are still alive and breathing on terra firma. Paul is not berating himself in a way that either denigrates or denies what God has made him to be, or what Christ has already accomplished in him. But a holy discontent forgets what lies in the past and press on with the upward call of doing better, and in the end being all that we were meant to be. We are meant to be a restless people until we find our final rest in Him, until we reach the goal. And here is what this means.


What a great reminder about being reflective, about not giving into the pop psychology idea of self-acceptance but instead living with a holy discontent, in pursuit of God's good and perfect will. What a great (and challenging) way to live. Press on.

February 19, 2010

Stephen Mansfield, The Search for God and Guinness

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy. This book is, as its subtitle proclaims, "a biography" of a beer. But, it is obviously more than that. In short, it is the biography of a family and a company whose history is seasoned with devotion to Jesus Christ and to the conviction that faith can be lived out beyond the walls of a church. In this interesting and readable journey through 250 years of history, Mansfield writes an engaging chronicle of how this family's faith shaped the ethos of a company and led it to be a leader both in the quality of the product it produced and in the way it formed a corporate culture. I can't say I'd ever thought of beer as a particularly healthy drink (probably due to a lot of baggage that often comes with the beverage in its American context), but its value as a safe and wholesome alternative to either unsafe water or to harder liquor in the early years of the company was part of the motivation behind its beginnings.

I was fascinated by the way this company continually chose to be a leader in the way it treated its workers, from the way company doctors aggressively sought to improve the living conditions of turn-of-the-twentieth-century workers, to the preservation of jobs for people in military service during the second world war, to the high wages it paid. I was also intrigued by the pattern of heirs apparent sidestepping their path to the company for full-time Christian ministry.

In all, this was both an entertaining and informative study on how one family and company have lived out their faith. It certainly gives food for thought on how our corporate culture today often falls short, and it also proves a great extended illustration of Luther's emphasis that vocation goes far beyond ordained ministry.

February 05, 2010

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

I highly recommend this classic work on the importance of Christian community. Coming out of his experiences in the Confessing Church seminary in the years leading up to WWII, Bonhoeffer's spectacular book both outlines the theological foundation for a robust and intentional communal life, but also gives practical advice on how to bring it about. While we certainly won't all be participating in the daily type of community that Bonhoeffer envisions (though it is very different from a cloister life, in that it is intentionally pointed toward and among the world in service), his vision is filled with great wisdom and insight for appreciating and reinvigorating our participation in our churches and smaller fellowship groups today. Teaching about Bible reading, prayer, service, and confession, Bonhoeffer paints a picture of the Christian life that preserves one from self-absorption and brings one into the support and fellowship of the communion of saints as we encounter Christ in one another. Truly a must-read.

February 03, 2010

I. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God

In this classic study (published originally in 1969 and republished with a new substantive epilogue in 1995), Marshall looks at a key theological issue in the New Testament, the perseverance of believers. In a setting of persecution, the question of perseverance is one that arises often in the NT texts, and it is an important pastoral issue still today. But it is also extremely useful as a lens through which to view the NT understanding of salvation, election, judgment, and many other interconnected ideas. In short, it is a vital test case, or maybe better put, it is essential data for a robust NT doctrine of God and of salvation.

Marshall digs in to the relevant NT texts by first investigating the OT and Jewish background concerning perseverance. He then moves through the various corpora in the NT: the Synoptics, Acts, Paul, Pastorals (may or may not be by Paul, but treated separately from though with an eye toward the undisputed Pauline corpus), Hebrews, the Catholics, and the Johannine literature. This systematic study is largely exegetical, as Marshall works carefully with the individual texts on their own before summing up each author's perspective.

Marshall then brings all of this data to bear on a conclusion: "We can say firmly that, while it is possible for a Christian to fail to persevere after a genuine experience of salvation, yet, with all the promises of a faithful God to sustain those who trust in Him, the main emphasis of the New Testament is on confidence and assurance of final salvation" (210). In short, while we can't explain away the possibility of falling away, believers may be "confident of persevering through the power of God" (199).

I am greatly appreciative of Marshall's study. I think it is a wonderful exegetical survey of this important area. And I think it provides an important testimony to the work of God in salvation. It obviously has much bearing on the Calvinist-Arminian debate (though Marshall prefers the designation "non-Calvinist" in this context because the second position isn't necessarily in conformity with Arminius). He has many insightful discussions of election, calling, monergism vs synergism, and some of the other relevant theological areas that are touched on by this topic. I greatly benefited from this book, and think Marshall has taken a robust, biblical line on the question of perseverance and, more broadly, on God's working in salvation.