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.