Sad to say, once again I’ll be missing ETS this year. If you’re not familiar, ETS is the Evangelical Theological Society, and their yearly meeting is every November, the week before Thanksgiving. I became a member of the society my final year at Dallas and was actually able to present part of my thesis at the Southwest Regional meeting that year. Earlier this year, I presented another paper at the Southeast Regional meeting in Birmingham.

Much like two years ago, I was actually planning on going. In 2012, I had submitted a paper and was approved to present at the meeting in Milwaukee, but then couldn’t afford to go. Last year, I hadn’t really planned on it, but this year I was planning to go until I found out my paper wasn’t approved and then I had to re-think my plans. Ultimately, it is hard to justify the expense when you are not a salaried employee and making the trip requires a week off work, plus airfare, plus hotel, plus rental car. And I didn’t even mention getting books!

Hopefully I’ll be able to make it next year when it is once again in Atlanta (Maybe I should start saving now).

Even though I’m not going to be there, I did receive my program earlier this month. Just for fun, I plotted out the sessions I would probably attend if I were going to be there.

For the Wednesday morning sessions, I’d probably head over to the Theological Aesthetics: The Arts, Aesthetics, and Ecclesiology section:

  • Fred Sanders – What the Icons Say and Do for the Gospel: The Place of the Ancient Christian Iconographic Tradition in Evangelical Churches
  • Tim Basselin – Unlimited Beauty: Disability and Vulnerability for the Church
  • Robert Covolo – The Church and Visual Art: Did Calvin Overreact?
  • Mark Coppenger – Spiritual Skepticism Over Art in the Local Church

For the afternoon session, I’d probably drift back and forth between God and God Incarnate: God and The Future:

  • Gerald Bray – The Mind of God and the Destiny of Man
  • Douglas Blount – God, the Future, and Inerrancy
  • Jonathan Yates – Augustine’s Vision of the Future
  • R. Albert Mohler – Contemporary Challenges and the Doctrine of the Future
  • Paige Patterson – God, Salvation, and the Future in John’s Revelation
  • Panel Discussion

And the review panel for Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction.

On Wednesday morning, I’d head over to the Models of God: The Jealousy of God section:

  • Paul Maxwell – In What Sense is the God of Christians a Jealous God?
  • Matthew Barrett – He Hardens Whomever He Wills: The Exodus, God’s Fame, and the Manifestation of God’s Jealousy through Divine Sovereignty
  • Dennis Jowers – Divine Jealousy and The Problem of Evil
  • K. Erik Thoennes – Divine Jealousy and the Christian Life

In the afternoon, I’d probably head toTheology For Counseling and Pastoral Care: Theodramatic Anthropology:

  • Kevin Vanhoozer – Role-playing: Personal Identity, and “Putting On” Christ: The Drama of Discipleship
  • Robert L. Saucy – The Biblical Heart and the Way of it’s Transformation: Growing Into Christ
  • Stephen P. Greggo – Theodramatic Anthropology & the “Significant” Self: Implications for Therapeutic Relating
  • Robert Kellemen – Theo-Drama and Gospel-Centered Counseling: God’s Redemptive Drama and Our Ultimate Life Questions

Or, I’d be at Biblical Theology: Defining Biblical Theology:

  • James Hamilton Jr. – Reflections on What is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns
  • Greg Beale – Response to James Hamilton Jr.’s What is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns
  • Edward Klink III and Darian Lockett – Reflections on Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice
  • Paul House – Response to  Edward Klink III and Darian Lockett’s Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice
  • Panel Discussion

Tempting at this same time would be the Hermeneutics: Hermeneutics and the Historicity of Adam set of papers, but I’d have to play it by ear after starting at the above two sections.

On Friday afternoon, I’m not sure if this is possible, but I’d try to catch three papers in three different sections:

  • D. A. Carson – Why the Local Church Is More Important than TGC, White Horse Inn, 9Marks, and Maybe Even ETS (from 1:00-1:40)
  • Keith Plummer – John Owen, the Self-Attestation of Biblical Authority, and its Significance for Christian Apologetics (1:50-2:30)
  • Wayne Grudem – Salvation without Repentance from Sin? A Critique of the “Free Grace” Gospel

There are maybe a few other outlying papers I’d try to catch, but this is the gist of the schedule I’d follow. Perhaps more importantly, I was really looking forward to meeting some authors/scholars for the first time, as well as connecting with others that I’ve already met either in person or online. I haven’t even mentioned how nice San Diego would be, but at the same time, I live in Florida which nice as well (though you could probably argue San Diego is nicer, but at least my rent is cheaper). All in all, I’m sure I would have had a great week there, and I’m bummed I couldn’t be there. I’m also bummed I couldn’t take Michael Bird up on any of his offers, especially the one to help him out during the Bart Ehrman review session. Maybe next year will hold similar challenges. Until then, I guess I better start saving!

9780801049644

Several weeks back, I requested a review copy of Exploring Psychology and Christian Faith, mainly because I wanted to use it as a textbook in my psychology class. I was granted the review copy, and am using it and enjoying it.

As a by product of my request, I also received a copy of Hans Schwarz’s The Christian Faith: A Creedal Account. 1 Schwarz is a rather prolific author and theological educator, but I had never heard of him. However, I was intrigued by this Lutheran’ account of theology and it ended up being a rather quick read.

Schwarz orders his discussion into four parts: (1) Presuppositions of the Faith (theology, revelation, Scripture); (2) God The Creator (God, creation, humanity, sin); (3) Christ the Redeemer (Jesus in history and as Savior); (4) The Holy Spirit as God’s Effacacious Power (The Holy Spirit, The Church, The Means of Grace, The Christian Hope). All of this takes place in right around 200 pages.

For the most part, Schwarz keeps footnotes to a minimum. In the notes there are, Luther is most frequently referenced, though Augustine and Barth make quite a few appearances as well. The focus is more on Schwarz’s exposition of Christian doctrine, as well as his desire that Christ remain central. In the end, he hope that readers will take away a deeper understanding of the Christian faith (vi).

Because of the nature of the book, many theological questions will remain un-answered. It is probably best to keep in mind that Schwarz is following Luther in seeing the central tenet of the Christian faith as “God in Christ, who is both sovereign and compassionate, who accepts us without any precondition, and to whom we respond with a faith active in love” (10). His doctrinal exposition is therefore not aimed at answering all typical theological questions in a systematic theology, but rather to systematically explain the core of Christian doctrine in light of Christ and in a Lutheran key.

As a result, I found the book an interesting, but not particularly profitable read. I’m not a big fan of Luther peronally, and less so when it comes to Lutheran theology, especially as it concerns sanctification (but more on that later). Coupled with Schwarz’s semi-Barthian approach to theology, revelation, and Scripture (the first three chapters), I was not a fan. The book does what it sets out to do, so in that sense it is a success. If you’d like a post-Barthian Lutheran account of the core doctrines of the Christian faith, then this book is for you. If that’s not what you’re into (I’m not), then this still might prove an interesting read (it was), but not necessarily something you’d want to carve time out to pursue.

Hans Schwarz, The Christian Faith: A Creedal Account. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, September 2014. 224 pp. Paperback, $21.99.

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Notes:

  1. I had worded by request “Exploring Psychology and THE Christian Faith” so it apparently looked like two separate requests.

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See a rundown of the individual fallacies here.

9781433542404Kevin Deyoung is senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing Michigan (home of Michigan St.). He blogs at The Gospel Coalition and has written several books in addition to Taking God At His Word (e.g. Crazy Busy and The Hole in Our Holiness). Here, he presents readers a brief primer on the doctrine of Scripture, which is more than adequately outlined in the subtitle of the book.

DeYoung explains his purpose in writing in the opening chapter of the book:

I want all that is in Psalm 119 to be an expression of all that is in our heads and in our hearts. In effect, I’m starting this book with the conclusion. Psalm 119 is the goal. I want to convince you (and make sure I’m convinced myself ) that the Bible makes no mistakes, can be understood, cannot be overturned, and is the most important word in your life, the most relevant thing you can read each day. Only when we are convinced of all this can we give a full-throated “Yes! Yes! Yes!” every time we read the Bible’s longest chapter. (Kindle Locations 145-149).

Having set out his goal, DeYoung explains using Psalm 119 what he thinks we should believe, how we should feel, and what we should do when it comes to Scripture. Toward this end he says,

While I hope this volume will motivate you to read the Bible, this is not a book on personal Bible study or principles for interpretation. Nor do I attempt an apologetic defense of Scripture, though I hope you will trust the Bible more for having read these eight chapters. This is not an exhaustive book, covering all the philosophical , theological, and methodological territory you might see in a fat, multivolume textbook . This is not an academic book with lots of footnotes. This is not a “take down” book where I name names and cite “chapter and verse” for current errors. This is not a groundbreaking work in exegetical, biblical, historical, or systematic theology. (Kindle Locations 239-244)

He realizes this might make it seem like it’s not worth reading, so he clarifies that all he is doing is offering a doctrine of Scripture from Scripture, and I would add, doing so in a highly readable way for the average person.

DeYoung takes different facets of the traditional doctrine of Scripture and devotes a chapter to each. The core of this is chapters 2-6 which cover the Bible’s trustworthiness, sufficiency, clarity, authority, and necessity respectively (the last four of which can be remember with the acronym SCAN). Chapter 7 looks at how Jesus viewed the Bible, while the final chapter offers encouragement to “stick with Scripture.” Ultimately,

Scripture doesn’t tell us everything we may want to know about everything. But it tells us everything we need to know about the most important things. It gives us something the Internet, with all its terabytes of information, never could: wisdom. The purpose of Holy Scripture is not ultimately to make you smart, or make you relevant, or make you rich, or get you a job, or get you married, or take all your problems away, or tell you where to live. The aim is that you might be wise enough to put your faith in Christ and be saved. (Kindle Locations 1453-1457)

The book closes with an appendix with 30 books DeYoung recommends on the doctrine of Scripture. Given the brief nature of this volume, readers who want to dig deeper into different aspects of the doctrine of Scripture have their work cut out for them. This may also help more skeptical readers find more of their questions answered. This isn’t to say DeYoung breezes over genuine difficulties (thought some might feel that way). Rather, he avoids some of the more technical issues when it comes to things like inerrancy and readers aware of those issues and wanting a more in-depth response will do well to look elsewhere. Though classifying this book as “preaching to the choir” is probably an unfair characterization, there is a certain sense in which DeYoung is writing to readers more or less on the same page as he is.

On the whole, DeYoung is right. There is nothing particularly groundbreaking about his book. But, that’s ok. Not every book needs to reinvent the wheel or offer new and groundbreaking insights that will shatter the minds of theologians young and old alike. Sometimes, it’s nice to have a book that reminds readers of a long held doctrine, but does so in a fresh way. Or, it’s nice to have a book that you can give to someone who doesn’t particularly like to read but is interested in learning more about why the Bible is important.

For the most part, that’s the category I would file this volume into. I didn’t particularly geek out about it back at T4G when it first came out since I thought I could probably guess the way most of the arguments within would flow. After finally getting the eBook for review from Crossway, my initial assessment was more or less right, but that doesn’t diminish the general value of a volume like this. If you’re look for a book you could give a new Christian or a questioning Christian when it comes to the doctrine of Scripture, this is a great place to start. You may even have some questions yourself when it comes to words like “inerrancy,” and wonder if the Bible really is authoritative. DeYoung’s volume is a great weekend read on the subject and will deftly guide you through what Scripture really says about itself. And, unlike some more recent volumes on the doctrine of Scripture, this one won’t leave you on the wrong side of history.


Kevin DeYoung, Taking God At His Word: Why The Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means For You and MeWheaton: Crossway, April 2014. 144  pp. Hardcover, $17.99.

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9780310517825

9780310518082

Many people have found their introduction to hermeneutics in How to Read The Bible for All Its Worth. I was not one of them. However, when I saw a new edition of the book (the 4th) was being released earlier this year, I thought it might be a good time to check it out. I was able to get a hold of a copy, as well as the companion volume, How to Read The Bible Book by Book.

This edition was prompted by a need to update the bibliography, but that in turn led to other updates. Specifically, all of the verse references are now parenthetical at the end of sentences and the translations have been updated. Also, commentary recommendations are up to date (for now).

The flow of the book is till more or less the same (since the 3rd edition). The opening chapter explains the need to interpret. Then, readers are guided through selecting a good translation of the Bible for personal study. With the basic tools in place, the remaining chapters each tackle a specific genre of the Bible. This starts with two chapters on the epistles. One covers background issues of history and literary context, while the other introduces the basic hermeneutical questions. Since the epistles are probably the easiest entry point, this seems like a good strategy. The chapters that follow go from Old Testament narrative, Acts, and Gospels (chapters 5-7) to parables (chapter 8), law (chapter 9), the prophets (chapter 10), the Psalms (chapter 11), wisdom literature (chapter 12), and finally Revelation (chapter 13). An appendix explains how to evaluate and use commentaries properly.

After reading through this, I wish I had come across it sooner. I had certainly heard of it, but this was after taking Bible study methods classes in college and seminary. As a single, accessible resource, I think this might become my go-to recommendation to get you grounded. There are other books I like as well, but especially if you couple this book with its companion volume, which is essentially a book by book survey of the entire Bible (that gives an overview, reading advice, and section by section walk-thru for each book), it gives readers a great foundation in reading and studying the Bible for themselves. More advanced books should certainly follow, but these two volumes are an excellent starting point.

If I could make one adjustment though, I would have liked to have either a more extended opening chapter, or perhaps a closing chapter that integrated the insights for studying the Bible into a step by step method. Maybe this could have been a chart, but it was touched on to some extent in the opening chapter. Going genre by genre is incredibly helpful, but I would have liked an integrating chapter. As part of this, I think more could have been said about studying Scripture at the level of words and phrases. I realize this is done in the context of specific genres, so maybe that’s why the integrating chapter would work better at the end after you’ve read all the specific insights you need to keep in mind moving genre to genre.

In the end, I doubt it is worth making a 5th edition to accommodate something like this. Instead, it probably illustrates that even a great introduction to studying the Bible works well with other resources. There is really no stand-alone go-to resource for hermeneutics. But there is wisdom in a multitude of teachers and counselors, and this resource is definitely worth consulting on its own or with its companion volume. If you really want to read the Bible for all of its worth, this is a great place to start.


Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How To Read The Bible For All Its WorthGrand Rapids: Zondervan, June 2014, 304 pp. Paperback, $18.99.

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Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How To Read The Bible Book By BookGrand Rapids: Zondervan, June 2014, 448 pp. Paperback, $18.99.

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18148522For my first year teaching Old Testament, I set my sights a little too high for a 9th grade audience. I really liked John Walton, and after looking at A Survey of the Old Testament (co-authored with Andrew Hill), I thought it would be a suitable textbook. I mean, it was glossy, full color pages and everything.

Within the first quarter, I knew I had made a huge mistake. There was simply too much information, and while it might have worked for college freshmen, it wasn’t well suited for high school freshmen. I reduced the reading load and dropped the textbook the following year. Since then, I’ve debating adding a textbook back into the class to supplement the primary reading of the Old Testament.

Though it wasn’t available at the time, I think I might have fared better that first year had the more reduced version of Walton and Hill’s book Old Testament Today been available. Actually it had been, I just missed it, but it came to my attention when the 2nd edition released last year. After getting a review copy, I ultimately opted to not adopt it, but it was more because of how I had structured the class, not that it was still too much information.

In this pared down version, the material is also slightly re-organized. The book is split into six sections:

  • Orientation and Fundamentals
  • The Pentateuch
  • Old Testament Narrative
  • Prophets and Prophetic Literature
  • Wisdom and Psalms
  • Epilogue

Within sections 2-5, the authors give a big picture overview of the literature and theology of that section of the Old Testament. Then, they give a book by book survey, followed by a section on relevance and application. The overall effect is that this is an accessible, practical survey of the Old Testament. It is still maybe a bit beyond 9th graders, but if one was teaching in a 5-day a week environment (I’m not), it could probably be used well.


9780830810512Another resource that looks useful, but that I haven’t integrated yet, is Tremper Longman’s Old Testament Essentials. This book is setup like a guided inductive Bible study. Longman divides the Old Testament into 17 sections:

  • Creation
  • Fall
  • Abraham
  • Isaac and Jacob
  • Joseph
  • Exodus
  • Wilderness Wanderings
  • Law
  • Priests, Holy Place and Sacrifices
  • Conquest
  • Judges
  • Saul, David and Solomon
  • Psalms
  • Wisdom
  • Divided Monarchy
  • Prophets
  • Exile and Return

Each section opens with a Bible study guide that offers passages to read and questions to answer. Then, Longman provides an essay that gives more detail about the high points of the texts being considered. This is followed by additional questions to unpack further before moving to some brief reflections and questions that connect the section of the Old Testament to the New. Then, Longman wraps up with a section that looks at practical implications for our lives today and suggests resources for going deeper.

There is much to commend about this format. This is definitely not a book you would just read through since most of the book is questions for you to answer after you’ve read the biblical texts in each section. It is suitable for a class like mine, or even a guided Bible study in a church small group. The only downside is that the overall study is disproportional. On the one hand, this is entirely understandable. My own class spends almost the entire first quarter on Genesis and Exodus, before picking up speed through the next three. Longman’s study devotes 11 sections to Genesis through Judges, and then 6 for the rest of the Old Testament, with only one chapter on the prophets. I think it would have been better to taken 2 or at least 3 chapters to cover the prophets, dividing them either thematically, or my major and minor. Instead, the chapter that is present focuses almost exclusively on Jeremiah and Daniel, with Ezekiel making a brief appearance in the following chapter on exile and return. In terms of capturing the flow of the storyline, this probably works fine. But, the downside is that much of the prophetic material will remain a dark corner in people’s understanding of the Old Testament.

All that being said, I’ve found with the Old Testament you can’t do everything in a single book. What Longman does focus on is excellent, and certainly his study could supplemented with something like Nancy Guthrie’s The Word of The Lord. Small groups or Sunday School classes that really want to study the Old Testament together will greatly benefit from Longman’s guided tour. Though I haven’t done it quite yet, I plan to incorporate some of Bible study into my class or maybe even add it as a textbook for next year. If you’re looking for Old Testament resources that can help raise biblical literacy, this is one to add to your library.


John H. Walton & Andrew E. Hill, Old Testament Today: A Journey from Ancient Context to Contemporary RelevanceGrand Rapids: Zondervan, February, 2014. 480 pp. Hardcover, $44.99.

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Tremper Longman III, Old Testament Essentials: Creation, Conquest, Exile, and ReturnDowners Grove, IL: IVP Connect, December, 2013. 215 pp. Paperback, $18.00.

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9781433537080Last time, we looked the core part of Mike Cosper’s The Stories We Tell. Now, we’ll go back and hit chapters 3-4 before finishing up with the last chapter. From what I can tell, you can still get the eBook of this for free as a Christ and Pop Culture member. That probably won’t be true forever, so better join and take advantage while you still can!

Chapter 3 in Mike Cosper’s The Stories We Tell covers three interconnected themes. First, Cosper examines stories that look back to an idyllic time now lost. Second, Cosper looks at stories that take place in what seems like an idyllic environment but in reality have a darker underbelly (the Truman Show for instance). Lastly, Cosper looks at stories where humanity tries to play God and it invariably goes wrong. The chapter is aptly titled “The Ghosts of Eden.”

Chapter 4 looks at the search for love through the lens of shows like How I Met Your Mother and 30 Rock. the former of which would have been more interesting had Cosper written his analysis in light of the show’s series finale. Cosper also examines reality dating shows, specifically, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?

While his analysis is thought provoking, I came away feeling like much more could have been done with the topic of both of these chapters. Specifically in chapter 4, the point could be made that the Gospel itself is a romantic comedy and our desire to watch essentially the same story over and over again shows an innate longing within us. Cosper examines this longing well, and in the end does foreshadow the Gospel (90), but he could have taken his analysis deeper by pointing out all these stories teach us ultimate fulfillment is found in another person and from the Christian point of view, that person is Christ. Romantic comedies aren’t wrong in the essence of their story, just the object of their affections.

When it comes to final chapter, provocatively titled “Honey Boo Boo and The Weight of Glory,” Cosper offers some keen cultural analysis. Especially now in the wake of the show’s cancellation, his insights are worthy of our attention. Before getting to Honey Boo Boo, Cosper examines the connection between reality TV and narcissism. Predictably, Kim Kardashian figures prominently. At the opposite end of the Kardashian family sits Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a show which “thrives on featuring the saddest elements of this family’s life” (202). What Cosper picks up in his analysis is savagely satirized in a recent Onion article. We have a “vulture-like attitude” in consuming and ridiculing the life of this backward family from the Deep South. We look. We laugh. We move on.

Cosper then shifts the discussion by connecting our fascination with reality TV to our obsession with social media. We’re fascinated with self-broadcasting and the rise of reality TV stars is just one way that facet of our culture manifests itself. We have the opportunity to glory in ourselves and bring an audience along for the ride. Cosper then notes that “Christian and non-Christian alike feel the dull ache of faded glory” (209). Our drive for glory isn’t wrong, merely misplaced, as C. S. Lewis has helped many understand.

This provides, I think, a fitting conclusion to the book. Cosper does offer a brief epilogue that includes a word to aspiring Christian filmmakers. But, by closing on a topic that other books on TV and movies might overlook, I think he shows that something that seems banal and not worthy of a second thought can be a pointer to deeper spiritual truth. In essence, Cosper’s book throughout is taking the everyday stories we encounter and probing their foundations to see what they provide evidence that the world we live in is the kind of world we would expect with Christian presuppositions. It provides a powerful case for what we believe but also models a way to open conversations with the wider culture about things that count.