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Yesterday, the stars aligned in an interesting way. It was the last day of classes before break and I wanted to spend some time reading the Christmas story in class. It was also, as you well know, the opening night for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which I saw, no comment). I had also been reading Colin Nicholl’s The Great Christ Comet: Revealing The True Star of Bethlehem. As is my custom, I was at Starbucks before the break of dawn with a cold brew and my iPad. I did my initial Bible reading and then switched to Kindle to read chapter 7 in Nicholl’s book.

Up to this point, Nicholl had surveyed what people have made of the Bethlehem star (chapter 1). Then he examined Matthew’s historical account (chapters 2-3), the main hypothesis about the star (chapter 4) before offering his own case that it was a comet (chapter 5-6). Chapter 7 then tackles the question, “why did the Magi interpret the comet the way they did?” In other words, what could the Magi have seen in the night sky that lead them to not only infer a special birth, but then know where to go to see the child?

Nicholl looks briefly at what Matthew says the Magi say. They allude to Numbers 24:17, a text they would have had access to, if in fact they were from Babylon (which is most likely). He then suggests that the astronomical phenomena they witnessed involved a conjugation of constellations with the comet. Then, surprisingly, he suggests that it is described in Revelation 12:1-5. He defends this in much more detail, but here is his conclusion:

In summary, Revelation 12:1-5 reveals the multifaceted celestial wonder that coincided with the birth of Jesus— the very sight that the Magi had seen in the eastern sky and that had prompted them to make a long journey west to Judea to worship the Messiah. In this astonishing celestial nativity drama, Virgo was playing the part of Israel/ Mary, and the comet’s coma was playing the role of the messianic baby. After rising heliacally in Virgo’s womb, looking like a baby, the cometary coma remained there for many days, growing in size in the manner of a normal human baby in its mother’s womb. While the comet rose in altitude, each passing day would have meant that it was observable earlier and in darker skies. Then, after descending within Virgo’s belly, the coma would have moved down out of it, making it seem that the baby was being born. Eventually, the baby appeared to have completely vacated Virgo’s womb and at this point it was regarded as having been born. At that moment the comet as a whole apparently formed an immense scepter that stretched from the eastern horizon all the way to the western horizon. Those attuned to what was happening and interpreting it messianically would have had no question but that the Messiah was born at that very time. Finally, the cometary baby speedily disappeared into the Sun’s light (i.e., heliacally set), bringing an end to the wonder in the eastern sky.

We infer from Revelation 12:1-5 that the comet’s coma became extraordinarily large, equivalent in size to a large full-term baby at the point of birth; that the comet as a whole took the form of a long iron scepter at the point of the child’s birth; and that it must have been very bright. Further, Revelation suggests that, on the eve of the birth, there was a meteor storm radiating from the tail of Hydra.

What John writes enables us to narrow down when the celestial events took place— during the months of Ululu and Tishratu (Babylon) or Tishri and Heshvan (Judea), namely in September and October of 6 BC. Moreover, Revelation 12:1-5 enables us to narrow down the time of Jesus’s birth to mid-October (early Tishratu in Babylon and early Heshvan in Judea) 96 of 6 BC. This is a plausible time of year for Jesus’s birth— it was when the Romans tended to have their censuses and when shepherds would certainly have been out in the fields (Luke 2:1-18). The cometary baby would have heliacally risen on September 29 or 30 and remained in her belly for about two weeks before slowly descending out of it to be born.

Essentially, the wonder that marked Jesus’s birth was an incredible full celestial nativity drama focused on Virgo and a great comet that seemed to bring her to life (Kindle Loc., 4603-4625)

Nicholl then takes this interpretation and connects it back to Matthew 1:18-2:12:

We suggest, then, based on our study of Revelation 12:1-5 and our fresh analysis of Matthew 1:18-2:12, that while the Virgin Mary was giving birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, the zodiacal constellation figure Virgo was giving birth to a cometary baby.

What we have preserved in Revelation 12:1-5 is a series of astronomical observations from 6 BC.

The heavenly birth was the climax of the year-plus cometary apparition. It was also the culmination of a pregnancy that had been apparent from the moment that a cometary baby was observed in Virgo’s womb as she heliacally rose, emerging in the eastern predawn sky. The cometary coma would initially have looked small in her belly, but over the following weeks, as the comet approached Earth, the “baby” would have become larger and larger, just like a fetus in its mother’s womb. In due course, it descended within Virgo until it made it seem that she was in labor. Then, when the coma-baby had fully emerged from its mother’s womb, it was “born.” Revelation implies that this celestial birth coincided with the birth of the Messiah to the terrestrial virgin, Mary. At that time the comet as a whole may well also have formed a massive celestial scepter that stretched from the eastern to the western horizon and seemed to rest on Israel in the west.

According to the New Testament, after the comet completed its time in the eastern sky and crossed to the west, it proceeded to guide the Magi to the place where the terrestrial virgin mother and her child were located. While the Messiah’s Star at its rising had revealed to the Magi the fact, time, and manner of his birth, it subsequently turned into a massive celestial pointer, disclosing to them precisely where the baby Messiah was located. The comet that had played the part of Virgo’s messianic baby in the celestial play eventually led the Magi right to the virgin and her special baby!

The Biblical account suggests that, as the Magi entered the house in Bethlehem, they finally saw on the earth what they had seen in the heavens less than 1 ½ months beforehand: the virgin with her newborn child. Their divine mission was now complete. Heaven and earth were united. (Kindle Loc., 4838-4859)

Ultimately Nicholl then concludes:

From what they saw in the eastern sky the Magi could have deduced certain things about the newborn baby, Virgo’s child par excellence: (1) His mother had conceived him through divine intervention without losing her virginity. (2) He had been born at the point when the cometary coma had in its entirety descended below Virgo’s groin. (3) He was the son of God. (4) He was glorious. (5) He was divine. (6) He had a powerful enemy who was eager to kill him. (7) He was destined to reign over the whole world. However, the celestial wonders by themselves cannot explain why the pagan astrologers came to the conclusion that the one born to a virgin was the Messiah, the King of the Jews. It was the Hebrew Scriptures, mediated through one or more Jews in Babylon, that furnished them with the all-important messianic paradigm (Kindle Loc., 4902-4908)

I still have to finish the book, but I found his explanation pretty convincing and used in class yesterday as we talked through the Christmas story. In a real sense, Christmas was the original “star wars.” The sign of Christ’s birth was signaled long long ago (2021 years to be exact), not in a galaxy far far away, but in our very own corner of the vast universe. While you can read too much into the night sky, it does play a fairly prominent role in the biblical story, and based on Nicholl’s careful study, is something we should perhaps examine more closely.

Especially if you happen to teach at a school whose mascot is the Comets!

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Well, it’s almost that time of year again. You know, that time at the end of the year when everyone gets jazzed about Bible reading plans. I haven’t seen the posts pop up yet, but I’m sure the week after Christmas they’ll be here right on schedule.

While I’m all for Bible reading plans, it really is not that effective if you just power through a reading plan without understanding what your’e reading. I would imagine that’s why many people have a hard time getting through a “Bible in a year” plan once Exodus wraps up. Leviticus and Numbers can join forces to tank any resolve you have leftover from January and put an end to your efforts mid-February.

A way to avoid some of this is to learn the basics of biblical interpretation. There are many, many resources you could use for this, but I’d recommend starting with Sinclair Ferguson’s From The Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying The Bible. I wouldn’t necessarily make it the only book you read on the topic, but it is an excellent place to start.

The subtitles give you the three parts that the book is divided into. First, Ferguson offers a trio of chapters on the trustworthiness of Scripture. He provides a good foundation that helps readers to see that the Bible is actually God’s Word. The implications of this should be that we make a priority of reading and then applying it.

Toward that end, Ferguson devotes the second part of the book to helping you read the Bible better. The first chapter in this section covers reading in general. The second chapter gives readers several “keys” for reading well. They are:

  • Context
  • Jesus
  • The unfolding drama
  • Biblical logic
  • Each part of Scripture should be read according to its literary character

These could have been presented in perhaps a more memorable way. But, they give readers “handles” for how to handle the Word of God correctly. When we read, we should ask questions about the background context (historical, cultural, literary), as well how it fits into the larger story of Scripture and relates to Christ. We should also develop the ability to read using biblical logic (which is easier said than done) and then read Scripture according to its genre of literature. These are pretty basic ideas, but they are not necessarily common sense and might not be something that every Christian has just naturally thought of in their Bible reading.

Going off the last key above, Ferguson devotes the following chapter to explaining how to read prose, poetry, wisdom, and prophecy well. Then, the following chapter does the same for Gospels, Epistles, and visions. Notice that these seven genres give us the way the Old and New Testaments are organized. The final chapter in this section is a brief Bible study using the keys to examine Ruth.

This makes for a natural transition to the next section on applying Scripture. The trio of chapters here are short, but help readers navigate the use of Scripture, how it takes root (using the parable of the sower) and how to draw practical applications. Ferguson follows up with several appendices, two on divine guidance through reading Scripture, one with more references for further reading, and the last is a Bible reading plan that I happen to use.(which D. A. Carson blogs on here).

Ultimately, this book isn’t a last word on the topic. It is an accessible introduction to reading the Bible profitably as God’s Word. Since many people can make a renewed commitment to do that as the New Year comes, this book would make a good companion resource to help broaden and deepen your reading. If you’ve read many books already on the topic, you won’t necessarily need to add this to your collection. However, simply because Sinclair Ferguson is the author, you might want to anyway.


Sinclair Ferguson, From The Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying The BibleCarlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust , July 2014. 224 pp. Paperback, $15.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Banner of Truth Trust for the review copy!

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As is my custom during Christmas and Easter, I’ve been reading some books related to the holidays. Alongside The First Days of Jesus and The Great Christ Comet, I just finished up Robert Hutchinson’s Searching For Jesus: New Discoveries In The Quest For Jesus of NazarethOften, I am skeptical of these sorts of books. After reading it, I would recommend it for the most part, but with a few caveats.

First though, an overview is in order. With the exception of the last chapter, each chapter is framed around a question. They are:

  • Is there eyewitness testimony in the Gospels?
  • Liar, lunatic, or legend?
  • Are the Gospels forgeries?
  • Have archaeologists found Jesus’ house?
  • Did the Church invent the idea of a suffering Messiah?
  • Just how kosher was Jesus?
  • Did Jesus have a secret message?
  • Was Jesus a zealot revolutionary?
  • Did Jesus plan his own execution?
  • Do we have proof for the resurrection?

Notice that some of these seem somewhat neutral, while others have a kind of skeptical edge to them. Part of this is because the author’s path to more academic New Testament study runs counter to people like Bart Ehrman. While growing up as a Christian, Hutchinson “just accepted as a self-evident truth that at least some of the New Testament was legendary” (xxiii). In a sense then, Hutchinson started from a position of skepticism related to the historicity of the New Testament and only after moving to Jerusalem, studying the Jewish culture, and then going to seminary at Fuller did he move the more conservative position.

That being said, Hutchinson doesn’t write as an evangelical per se. His book excels when it discusses cultural context, archaeology, and historical documents. When it comes to theology, the atonement for instance, he seems more or less out of touch with the general contours of the traditional doctrine (chapter 9 gets into this and is also one of the shortest in the book). However, his overall focus is not on the theology of Jesus’ teaching and the resulting development of Christianity. Rather, he is exploring what kind of evidence there is for Jesus’ life and work in the first century.

As far as that element of his work goes, his conclusions are more or less in line with the traditional views that Christians have held since basically the first century. The New Testament contains eyewitness testimony, Jesus was neither liar, lunatic, or legend. The Gospels we have aren’t forgeries and in fact were written very early. The church didn’t invent the idea of a suffering Messiah and in fact there is evidence for the idea in Second Temple Judaism. The Gnostic Gospels are not accurate depictions of Jesus, who also was not a zealot revolutionary. The Gospel of Judas is not the best explanation for why Jesus was killed and we do have pretty solid proof of Jesus resurrection (although Hutchinson is a little more fuzzy on this than you’d hope, even after having read Wright).

Hutchinson supports all these conclusions by bringing readers into scholarly discussions in a digestible way. Because of his background, he reads a bit wider than many evangelicals but also stands in opposition to the many radical revisionists when it comes to early Christian history (he debunks quite a bit of Ehrman’s claims in this book). Each chapter contains a short list of recommend books for further study that often include books that are recommendations and books that he gently refutes. For the most part, Hutchinson is interacting with books rather than journal articles. Often, these books are aimed at the popular level public and so it is helpful for a well-educated layman to take on some of their claims and show that the evidence doesn’t always mesh as well as these revisionist authors claim.

On the whole, I’d recommend picking this up if you’re curious about the background for Jesus life and ministry. If you’ve caught wind of some skeptical questions related to Jesus’ existence Hutchinson’s book can provide solid evidence to undermine some more radical claims. He is a very readable author and conversant with a wide variety of sources. It may be a 350 page book, but it isn’t dense academic prose on the subject. From a traditional evangelical perspective, there is much to agree with historically and culturally, but some variance when it comes to theology. However, I think that might be ultimately helpful because it helps readers not only survey the evidence with Hutchinson but can encourage one to be critical in a healthy way regarding some the theological conclusions he makes.

Robert J. Hutchinson, Searching For Jesus: New Discoveries In The Quest For Jesus of Nazareth – And How They Confirm The Gospel AccountsNashville: Thomas Nelson, October 2015. 352 pp. Hardcover, $24.99.

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Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!

I thought about doing a Christmas edition, but a couple of bands I follow came out with new releases recently, so we’ll get to the Christmas stuff next week. Pomegranate Tiger is the musical project of Martin Andres who plays both the guitars and drums on the newest release, Boundless. You can actually watch him do so for one of the songs in the following two videos:

Likewise, Intervals is the musical project of Aaron Marshall. The last release was full band and vocals, but it’s now returned to instrumental form. Unlike Anders though, Marshall just does all the guitar work and has some friends playing drums and bass. This particular song features a sax solo:

If you’ve been tracking with stuff I’ve posted on music or metal Monday, you’ve probably figured out that it’s mostly instrumental. That is because it’s what I mostly listen to and what I am have traditional written and recorded myself. I sometimes wonder what I’ve had produced by now if I had stuck with music through college instead of pursuing ministry instead. In some ways, this is a form of lament since it is a kind of loss, but in another way, it’s not something I’d necessarily go back and change. I’m glad I took the path that I did, but I’d like to make music a bigger part of my life in the coming years.

This is not necessarily the best introduction to the richness of Augustine’s thinking. However, it is an interesting look from a post-Christian perspective. For those of us embedded in a Christian theological context that appreciates Augustine, this is a different view on why Augustine is important.

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About a month ago I told you about Bob Kellemen’s new book, Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ. It was a follow up to a book he published last year, Gospel-Centered Counseling. Along the same time that book was released, a volume of essays on the relationship of Scripture and counseling also came out. That was the second book that the Biblical Counseling Coalition published (this was the first). Now, they’ve recently published Biblical Counseling and The Church: God’s Care Through God’s People which is edited by Bob Kellemen and Kevin Carson.

If you look at the titles of the books, there is a nice progression. The first focused on defining counseling, specifically what biblical counseling is and isn’t. The second was essentially asking whether Scripture is generally sufficient for the counseling enterprise. Now, this volume is looking at the relationship of counseling to the local church. As such, it’s not necessarily a read straight thru sort of book. Rather, it is a useful reference for someone who is involved in the shepherding and care of their particular local church. Pastors would do well to have this on their shelf, but so would many small group leaders if they take their role seriously and also want to grow in their ability to shepherd well.

The first part of the book casts the vision for counseling within the local church. A key idea is that if your people are trained well in one-anothering and offering informal biblical counsel, your overall need for serious counseling is diminished (but will never go away because life). In the second part of the book the relationship of counseling and small group ministry is assessed. I found the chapter here on redemption groups particularly interesting since they have recently been implemented in our church by our pastoral resident (who came from Mars Hill and was in a group with the author of this chapter and the book Redemption, Mike Wilkerson). I suppose I could have asked Justin (the resident about the details), but reading this helped me understand the role these groups play in the local church and what their ultimate goal is.

The third part of the book has two chapters dealing with the relationship of biblical counseling, conflict resolution, and church discipline. While brief, this section I’m sure will prove helpful as a reference. The next part of the book is on actually equipping biblical counselors in the local church. An initial chapter casts vision and then the successive chapters offer advice and insight for implementing this kind of ministry in a large church, a midsize church, and then a “smaller” church. The chapters that follows this address implementing the ministry in a more predominantly multicultural church, with a final chapter on ethical concerns. The fifth part of the book is on the relationship of counseling and church outreach, which includes the academy and parachurch organizations.The final part of the book wraps up with a single chapter on biblical counseling in historical perspective and future prospects.

Overall, I think this is a helpful resource for primarily pastors and small group leaders to make use of. Doing counseling is unavoidable if you spend any time involved in discipleship or shepherding small to large groups of people. Because of that, we ought to be equipped to know how to do it well, and many best practices are outlined in the essays in this book. Especially when complimented by the other resources the Biblical Counseling Coalition has released, this book has the depth and accessibility to effectively shape whatever kind of counseling ministry is developing in your local church.


Bob Kellemen (general editor) & Kevin Carson (managing editor), Biblical Counseling and The Church: God’s Care Through God’s PeopleGrand Rapids: Zondervan, November 2015. 496 pp. Hardcover, $32.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

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One of the books I would have read if I had stayed in the doctoral program at SBTS was A. G. Sertillanges’ The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, and Methods (you can download a PDF here). As I’m moving forward toward still doing Ph.D work, I thought I should read all the books that were part of that opening seminar at SBTS. In this particular book, Sertillanges details the calling and virtues of an intellectual (chapters 1-2), how to organize life (chapter 3), and then the time (chapter 4), the field (chapter 5), the spirit (chapter 6), and the preparation for work (chapter 7). He closes with chapters on creative work (chapter 8) and the man as worker (chapter 9).

It was chapter 7 that really grabbed my attention. While each chapter has roman numeraled subdivisions, this chapter has three headings which have those subdivisions. They are reading, the management of memory, and notes. Keep in mind that all of this is considered “preparation” for work. I’m not sure what your expectations would be for Sertillanges’ thoughts on reading given the title of his book, but they definitely didn’t fit mine.

For starters, he says “The first rule is to read little” (146). Really? I’ve clearly been doing this wrong then. He goes on to say,

The mind is dulled, not fed, by inordinate reading, it is made gradually incapable of reflection and concentration, and therefore of production; it grows inwardly extroverted, if one can so express oneself, becomes the slave of its mental images, of the ebb and flow of ideas on which it has eagerly fastened its attention. This uncontrolled delight is an escape from self; it ousts the intelligence from its function and allows it merely to follow point for point the thoughts of others, to be carried along in the stream of words, developments, chapters, volumes. (147)

He adds some more thoughts (don’t read novels or newspapers, though he qualifies this more later) and then concludes the section saying, “Never read when you can reflect; read only, except in moments of recreation, what concerns the purpose you are pursuing; and read little, so as not to eat up your interior silence” (149).

The main idea in the next section is that intellectuals should “read only those books in which leading ideas are expressed at first hand” (150). He then distinguishes four types of reading in the following section. They are fundamental, accidental, stimulating or edifying, and recreative reading (152). Each of these has its place, and it is obviously important to know what kind of reading you’re doing with any given book. This subsection of the book has three more sections about how to interact with authors and finally on a life of reading.

While I could extract more insights from this section of Sertillanges’ book, I’d like to reflect instead on the block quote above. In my experience, what he says about inordinate reading has proven true. I think two insights follow, one for book reviewing, the other for seminary.

First, you should be careful if you’re planning to be a book reviewer or do a lot of self reading. It can very easily be something that takes a big chunk of your time when you could be doing other worthwhile things. Notice, I didn’t say reading wasn’t worthwhile. It’s just that we can easily fool ourselves into thinking that with reading more is always better. Reading widely and deeply is beneficial. Reading excessively is not necessarily so. If I’ve logged a thousand books on Goodreads but can’t think straight when it’s time to write that article or paper I am to be most pitied. Even more so if my plans for reading interfere with productivity elsewhere.

The danger with being a book reviewer is that you can end up snagging a lot of books to read that aren’t really going anywhere. If you look back at the four categories Sertillanges gives, reading for the sole purpose of a book review is somewhere between stimulating and recreative. It’s certainly not fundamental, but we can very easily shift into thinking it somehow is. The same can happen with personal reading simply because we enjoy the subject matter. However, we eventually may find ourselves trying to read every new thing that comes out and catches our eye. But that isn’t reading “little” as Sertillanges encourages and may involve a lot of wasted time on books that aren’t worth it.

Second, and definitely related, seminary forces a person to read “much.” But the books are wisely chosen by those who know much more than we do. For a season, it is not a bad idea since it is part of the preparatory program you’re enrolled in. As a lifestyle though, I’ve found it to be counter-productive in the four years since I graduated. I was generally reading over and above assigned class reading while at Dallas and I took a full load every semester. After graduating, I more or less continued the volume of reading, but directed to books I would review or simply wanted to read for interest sake. The problem was that I wasn’t necessarily required to do any of that reading, and none of it was being harnessed into any long term intellectual project. I may have read 500 books since I graduated from Dallas, but I only have several hundred reviews to show for it.

All of this is to say that there perils associated with reading too much. As we have sought to recover from the scandal of the evangelical mind in that last 20 or so years, we have prioritized and praised reading, and rightly so. However, for some of us, reading can be overdone and more is not always necessarily better. Take for instance Tim Challies Reading Challenge. While I personally read far over and above the obsessed level, I wouldn’t encourage you to do the same. I would encourage you to use the different categories to broaden your reading (and will most likely do so with mine as well), but I don’t know that you would personally benefit from aiming to read 100 plus books next year as a goal. I don’t know anyone within my current sphere of influence for whom that would be a good idea. While I want people to read more, especially if they are looking to grow as Christians, I tend to think close reading of a few solid books is much better than quick reading of several hundred. Even if you are D. A. Carson.

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Thanks to Baker Books, I was able to get a copy of William Hendriksen’s More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of The Book of Revelation. Right now I’m looking at launching a Revelation Bible study in January for college and high school students. I’ve read a few shorter works on Revelation (Poythress and Gorman), as well as Morris’ commentary. I’m planning to use Beale, Mounce, Osborne, Keener, Wright, and Aune for the actual study. Given all that, I thought I’d take advantage of an opportunity to read a short commentary from a well respected and prolific commentator.

Hendrinksen lays out several propositions about the book of Revelation in his introductory chapters:

  • The book of Revelation consists of seven sections. They are parallel and each spans the entire new dispensation, form the first to the second coming of Christ. (28)
  • The seven sections may be grouped into two major divisions. The first major division (chapters 1-11) consists of three sections. The second major division (chapters 12-22) consists of four sections. These two major divisions reveal a progress in depth or intensity of spiritual conflict. (30)
  • The book is one. The principles of human conduct and divine moral government are progressively revealed; the lampstands give rise to the seals, the seals to the trumpets, etc. (41)
  • The seven sections of the Apocalypse are arranged in an ascending, climactic order. There is progress in eschatological emphasis. The final judgment is first announced, then introduced, and finally described. Similarly, the new heaven and earth are described more fully in the final section than in those that precede it. (44)
  • The fabric of the book consists of moving pictures. The details that pertain to the picture should be interpreted in harmony with its central thought. We should ask two questions. First, what is the entire picture? Second, what is its predominant idea? (48)
  • The seals, trumpets, bowls of wrath, and similar symbols refer not to specific events, particular happenings, or details of history, but to principles – of human conduct and of divine moral government – that are operating throughout the history of the world, especially throughout the new dispensation. (51)
  • The Apocalypse is rooted in contemporaneous events and circumstances. Its symbols should be interpreted in the light of conditions that prevailed when the book was written. (54)
  • The Apocalypse is rooted in the sacred Scriptures. It should be interpreted in harmony with the teachings of the entire Bible. (58)
  • The Apocalypse is rooted in the mind and revelation of God. God in Christ is the real Author, and this book contains the purpose of God concerning the history of the Church. (59)

These propositions are stated and defended in the first 6 chapters. Then, Hendriksen validates them further in his commentary proper, which runs for the next 8 chapters. After the first chapters that covers Revelation 1, each successive chapter deals with one of the seven sections that Hendriksen mentions above (2-3; 4-7; 8-11; 12-14; 15-16; 17-19; 20-22). I like his idea that they are parallel, but I’ll need to do a bit more study to be fully convinced. All in all, I’m glad I was able to get a hold of this and start my study early.

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Zondervan sent along the next volume in the 5 Solas Series, David Vandrunen’s God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life. This volume is about 100 pages shorted than Schreiner’s. At the same time, there isn’t much present controversy attached to Soli Deo Gloria as there is with Sola Fide. Perhaps some of that is due to it being the overlooked sola of the five. Regardless, readers would do well to explore it using Vandrunen’s work here as a guide.

His book has three sections. The first is a kind of historical survey of the Glory of God in Reformed Theology. The second provides a biblical theology of the Glory of God in Scripture starting with the cloud in Exodus and moving to the incarnation and ultimately the glorification of God’s people. The final part tackles some practical concerns. The first two, Prayer and Worship in an Age of Distraction and The Fear of The Lord in an Age of Narcissism are particularly relevant and may constitute the chief contribution of this book to your thinking. The final chapter moves into some of the two kingdoms theology that comes from Westminster West and of which Vandrunen has previously written on (here for instance). I’m not a fan, but it doesn’t detract from the overall value of Vandrunen’s contribution to this promising series.

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Finally, thanks to Crossway’s eBook program, I was able to get The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry (you can read a sample here). Drawing on years of pastoral experience, author R. Kent Hughes and contributing editor Douglas Sean O’Donnell offer exactly what the subtitle of the book suggests. This fairly large (almost 600 pg) volume is divided into three parts. The first focuses on Christian gatherings with chapters on Sunday worship, annual services, weddings, and funerals. Each chapter is a balanced combination of theoretical foundations and actual practical advice and resources. So for instance, the chapter on weddings not only gives tips for how to structure a wedding service, readers are provided with 10 sample wedding homilies as well as a short guide on implementing pre-marital counseling.

In the second part of the book, the focus shifts to the various parts of a public worship service. Here, readers are given chapters on public prayer, Christian creeds, hymns and songs, baptism, and communion. Once again, and especially in the latter two, readers have strong theological foundations coupled with nuts and bolts advice for leading well. This continues into the final part of the book on ministerial duties. Two in particular are highlighted: pastoral counseling and hospital visitations. An appendix returns to weddings and offers sample wedding services from various church contexts.

There is certainly much to glean and use in this book. Large sections of it could be profitably read for theological development. However most of it is more obviously reference type material that would be consulted as needed. I wish I had a book like this when I was preparing to officiate a wedding for the first time. I had somewhat of a blank slate to work with and think I put together a fairly good wedding homily that I can re-use and adapt as needed. But, I would have put together an even better one had I had the chapter in here with all the wisdom for not only the wedding service itself, but the pre-marital counseling leading up to the marriage. I will most definitely come back and consult this before officiating or counseling again.

As a new Thanksgiving (more or less) tradition, Ali and I went to see the most recent and last installment of The Hunger Games. We were both thankful we had a good meal beforehand and that we don’t live in Panem. I haven’t read the books but Ali said Mockingjay Part 1 was the best book to movie adaptation she has seen and that this one was even better than the book. If you want to argue that, I guess you’ll have to figure out how to take that up with her. Also, I realize that only the first movies is “The Hunger Games” and that the second was “Catching Fire.” But, much like Game of Thrones, the title of the first book gets imposed on the series (which is maybe more intentional in this case).

I’ve written about The Hunger Games before, but that was three years ago and in reference to the first installment. Having seen them all now, here some random thoughts.

First, I tend to really hate the middle of each movie. Even knowing how the whole series ended before watching the first movie, I really didn’t like the intensity of the “fight for life” segment that takes up the main part of each movie. The “arena” where this fight takes place shifts in each movie, coming ever closer and closer to the heart of The Capitol. In each case though, Katniss always seems to be up against a severe and brutal assault engineered by The Capitol. Since you’re identifying with her, you feel the brutality of it, and I just don’t enjoy that as a form of entertainment. However…

Second, while we’re on the subject of identification, D. L. Mayfield makes a fascinating point in her article on the movie at Christ and Pop Culture:

Instead of Katniss, the person I think Suzanne Collins meant for us to truly identify with is Effie Trinket–the preposterous, good-hearted, naive accomplice and benefactor of the Capitol. We love her because she is silly and distracted but ultimately not responsible for the evils of her country. At the end of this film she kisses Katniss and wipes away a tear or two from her flickering blue eyelashes. Life will go on for her, we understand, in a somewhat normal way. Removed from the real violence and cost, Effie never fully understands her participation nor the consequences of the politics of oppression that dictated Panem. She herself had been a consumer of this story of Katniss, the Mockingjay, since the beginning. She sheds a tear and then moves on, a result of living and growing up within the capitol, a result of being on the dominant side of history. If Effie has been permanently affected by the violence and horror of both the Hunger Games and the subsequent casualties of war, we don’t get to see it. And in a way, we hope she doesn’t.

We want life to go on as normal. We want to escape the realities of the world we live in. So we blink back our own few tears, get out of our seats, and leave the theater. We try, just like Effie, to forget all that we have seen and know, because that is the easier way to live.

I think this is right on, at least in terms of The Hunger Games as cultural critique. The majority of people who reads the books or see the movies are not Katnisses. They are not oppressed and in need of some salvation from the horrors of everyday life (at least at the cultural level). They are instead, like Effie: part of the dominant culture and generally not affected by the plight of those less fortunate. We may collide with it here and there, but that’s about it. That is probably part of why I don’t enjoy the fight for life as a form of entertainment. There’s a sense in which is shouldn’t be entertaining because it can too easily map onto real life struggles of people in our current world, not necessarily some future dystopia. For more on that point, you should read the rest of the article.

Lastly, I couldn’t help but think of Katniss as a kind of counterpoint to The Dark Knight’s joker. Think about it from the perspective of The Capitol residents. Here, I’ll put in analogical form:

Katniss : Capitol residents :: Joker : Gotham residents

To the Capitol residents, Katniss is an agent of chaos, eventually upending their way of life and disrupting the status quo. We view this a good thing in The Hunger Games and a bad thing in The Dark Knight. Because we are viewing things from Katniss’ point of view, her actions are a little more understandable (and sometimes predictable) than the Joker. However, she has a consistent pattern of playing by her own rules and asserting her own will to power in the pursuit of liberating the oppressed. I tend to wonder if Nietzsche would be comfortable calling her an Überfrau. For her perpetual assaults on the status quo, she might very well earn that title. She is certainly doing so on her own terms, an important existential prerequisite. She also celebrates life in all its forms, but is not afraid to kill if it suits her. All lives matter, but dictators must die.

For the past couple of years, I’ve frequently offered an “Ask Anything Friday” class period for my students. I think it started toward the end of the 2013-2014 school year and then became a regular feature in 14-15. This year, I actually came up with a system for making it more efficient, instead of it being purely off the cuff.

For the juniors and seniors, it is pretty much every Friday. Earlier in the week they submit a question through this form:

Then, I pull up the questions in class in a spreadsheet. I copy over the questions so they can be displayed in class without names attached. This gives students the option to ask questions without feeling dumb, since I’m the only one who will know who asked which question. It also allows for sensitive questions to be asked without people knowing the identity of the asker.

My goal has been to provide a forum for high school students to feel comfortable asking pretty much anything about the Bible, theology, ethics, or occasionally, my personal life. Because they now submit questions ahead of time, I have the option to prepare answers, but I generally prefer to shoot from the hip, so I don’t actually look at the questions until they show up on Friday. I would rather go off what I can answer off the top of my head, and if the question does prompt further research, I’d rather admit limited knowledge and then model the research process. Sometimes, I’ll go through that process in class to demonstrate how to effectively find answers to the questions the students have instead of just handing out the answers. Other times, I’ll do the research on my own and come back the following Friday with a follow up.

After having done this for a while now, I thought it might be beneficial to open this up to blog readers. If you’d like to submit questions that get answered in a blog post, you can submit them through the form above, or bookmark this link. Instead of listing a period (since you don’t go to my school), but “Blog” in the period so I can effectively sort it in the spreadsheet. I can’t guarantee I’ll answer every single question, but I can sure try!