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Graham Cole is Anglican Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School. Before that, he was Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at TEDS. He has written several books, and now with with The God Who Became Human: A Biblical Theology of Incarnation, he has two published within the New Studies in Biblical Theology series.

Although I had been aware of Cole as a theologian and writer, this was actually the first book of his I read. But, it was such an enjoyable experience, before I knew it, I had also worked my way through God The Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (excellent) and He Who Gives Life in the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series (likewise).

A big part of the enjoyability is Cole’s clarity of writing. He does this both from chapter to chapter, but often in making clear his assumptions that undergird his study. He does this in the introduction, and then says that

My hope is that by the time the reader closes this study he or she will have a deeper sense of the astonishing providence of God that subtly prepared the way for the mystery of the incarnation, a great appreciation of the magnitude of the divine stooping that in the incarnation saw God weep human tears, and a profounder joy at the depth of the love of God that sent no surrogate as the final revelation but the beloved Son who became flesh (25).

To accomplish all this, in chapter 1 Cole starts with Genesis and God’s preparations that would make the incarnation possible. In chapter 2, Cole traces the idea of an “embodied” God from Abraham on through Moses, Judges, and the former and latter prophets. In chapter 3, maps out the hope of Israel for a Messiah, including some intertestamental reflections. Chapter 4 moves into the New Testament material and chapter 5 takes up Anselm’s question of why God became man. The final full chapter explores the theological as well as existential significance of the incarnation. A conclusion ties all the threads together and then a brief appendix treats the relationship of theological interpretation of Scripture and biblical theology.

Like most all the volumes in this series I have read, this book was richly biblical, theological insightful, and pastorally relevant. Those dimensions are not always present in even proportions, but they are present here nonetheless. Cole takes a significant, yet perhaps overlooked theme and traces it from Genesis to Revelation. He tackles some thorny theological issues, one of which I still wrestle with. In discussing whether or not the appearances of the Angel of The Lord or other theophanies (appearances of God) in the Old Testament are the pre-incarnate Christ, Cole says (after quoting Calvin along similar lines):

The suggestion that the anthropomorphic theophanies were actually appearances were actually appearances of the pre-incarnate Son of God is plausible and the idea is defensible. However, it must be observed that even though this proposition is consistent with the biblical testimony it is not demanded by it (120).

That’s more or less where I land at the moment, though David Murray almost convinced me otherwise. It would seem to diminish the significance of the incarnation in the Gospels if it happened at times in the Old Testament. Also “pre-incarnate” almost doesn’t make sense (think about it for a minute). Christ is either incarnate in his appearance to humans or not, there isn’t really an in-between ethereal state.

Even though it is a kind of side issue to the main study, I was intrigued by Cole’s appendix on theological interpretation of Scripture.He begins by explaining his understanding of the relationship of biblical and systematic theology. Systematic theology functions as a kind of shorthand for theological expressions, and often uses proof texts. As Cole sees it, “systematic theology’s proof texts, however, need to be derived from the application of a sound biblical theology method” (172). Likewise, biblical theology “helps systematic theology get the proportions right in its accents” (173). Cole suggests that “this is an exceedingly important contribution. In my opinion there is a crying need for a systematic theology text to be written that does just that.” Michael Bird has taken this to heart and tried to do just that.

After clarifying all this, Cole then asks how biblical theology and theological interpretation of Scripture are related. He distinguishes them as separate tasks, unlike Brian Rosner who sees them as synonymous. Cole explains, “biblical theology on the one hand helps me to know what I see, whereas the theological interpretation of Scripture helps me to know how to serve the church with what I see as I endeavour to bring the text and the present together in a meaningful fashion” (173). He thus sees the disciplines as complementary and indispensable. Ultimately he says, “when systematic theology uses biblical theology to connect text and present in a normative fashion, we are engaged in the theological interpretation of Scripture” (174).

The upshot of all this is that Cole, in the span of several short pages, explains how to connect systematic theology, biblical theology, and theological interpretation of Scripture in a way that affirms the place of each without eradicating the need for the others. I’ve seen people get burned out on systematic theology and opt to move to biblical theology as their new bread and butter reading. Often, I think this is because they grow weary of the proof texting and want to see more substantial exegetical interactions. And so they should. However, biblical theology isn’t aimed at offering summary statements, and also isn’t aimed at taking those summaries and connecting them to the present like theological interpretation of Scripture should be doing. If you really want to see this all done well, get Peter Leithart’s commentary on 1 & 2 Kings in the Brazos Theological Commentary on The Bible. Daniel Treier called it the best one in the series at the Southeast Regional ETS meeting. To paraphrase, he more or less said if you want to see theological interpretation done well, read Leithart’s volume. I did that in my quiet time during 1 & 2 Kings this fall, and I would have to agree.

All of this also illustrates why you should pick up every copy of a book in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. Though Cole’s book was focused on a biblical theology of the incarnation, there is always more involved. There are side roads along the way that prove to be fruitful explorations and that only strengthens the overall value of the book. Especially with Christmas right around the corner, you might want to look into adding Cole’s fine study to your library, and maybe even put several more volumes in this series on your Amazon Christmas list that I know you have.


Graham A. Cole, The God Who Became Human: A Biblical Theology of Incarnation, (New Studies in Biblical Theology). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, May, 2013. 240 pp. Paperback, $22.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

The other day I decided to rock an older album from my iTunes library, For Today’s Ekklesia. It was one of my go-to albums in the fall of 2008. They are thankfully still around making music and here is their most popular video off their most recent album Fight The Silence:

Also, here’s an interview with the vocalist:

And, while we’re at it, here’s the music video for the song using The Shema that I mentioned in an article over at Christ and Pop Culture:

(via)

I know we usually do philosophy on Fridays, but the Wisecrack channel that brought us 8-Bit Philosophy have a new show. Earthling Cinema is, in brief, film criticism done by an alien after humanity has been wiped out in a galactic civil war. The first film under consideration is Fight Club. If you haven’t seen the movie, this has a key spoiler in it. But, if you don’t plan to ever watch the movie, I guess that’s not a problem. If you have seen the movie, this is a good introduction to some of the issues and concepts the movie is offering commentary on.

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Preston Sprinkle is associate professor of biblical studies at Eternity Bible College. He co-authored Erasing Hell (remember that?) with Francis Chan and co-edited The Faith of Jesus Christ with Michael Bird. His doctoral dissertation was published as Law and Life: The Interpretation of Leviticus 18:5 in Early Judaism and in Paul. The present book, Paul & Judaism: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation is the outworking of an “educated hunch” Sprinkle had during his doctoral studies.

Specifically this hunch was derived from noticing “aspects of discontinuity that were either not detected or not emphasized among scholars” when it came to comparisons of the writings of Paul and the Dead Sea Scrolls (13). While the latter are the Jewish writings most similar to Paul, Sprinkle grew to see more discontinuity in terms of the their respective soteriological structures while doing his Ph.D. This book is an attempt to explain and explore that more fully.

Though not necessarily beach reading, that’s exactly how I read it. I didn’t intend to, but I had a whole afternoon with appropriate shade and hydration and found that I just couldn’t put it down. The opening chapter revisits E. P. Sanders monumental work Paul and Palestinian Judaism which suggested more continuity between Paul and Jewish thought than was previously imagined. Sprinkle pushes back on some of Sanders’ conclusions by examining soteriological motifs in Paul and the writings of the Jewish sect at Qumran (known as the Dead Sea Scrolls).

Before really getting to that, in chapter 2, Sprinkle compares two streams of Old Testament restoration theology. First, we see the conditional promises of restoration in Deuteronomy (which are also in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles). Second, we see unconditional promises of restoration in the prophets. The point here is to demonstrate that the Old Testament presents “diverse paradigms of restoration” rather than show which stream is more Pauline or Jewish (67). The resultant streams will be “heuristic lenses to understand and compare the soteriological structures of Paul and Qumran” (67).

In chapter 3, Sprinkle looks at how Paul and the Qumran community handle the promise of restoration from the curse of the law. While both argue along similar redemptive-historical lines, Qumran tends to have a more Deuteronomic view of the restoration (conditional on obedience), whereas Paul is radically Prophetic, to the point of discarding the need of works of the law altogether (94).

In chapter 4, Sprinkle examines the motif of the eschatological spirit. Here, he notes there is an even spread of discontinuity and continuity rather than the radical disjunction of the previous chapter (120). The main difference is that for Paul, the eschatological spirit is a divine agent that effects obedience in the restored people, and for Qumran, it is not (121). Sprinkle sees this as a major point of disconinuity.

After a brief excursus on Moses, Paul and the glory of the Old and New Covenants, Sprinkle turns to anthropological pessimim in chapter 5. The specific question is “does humanity possess the unaided ability to initiate a return to God and obey his laws?” According to didactic text the answer is yes and according to some hymnic texts, the answer is no (144). Qumran doesn’t offer a uniform portrait, but Paul does. For Paul, humanity is in desparate need of divine rescue, and though Qumran offers something close to this portrait in the hymnic texts, Paul is much more radical in his assesment.

This becomes more apparent in chapter 6 which focuses on justification. Here, Sprinkle shows that contra N. T. Wright, it is hard to sustain the argument that “Paul’s doctrine has exactly the same shape as that of MMT” (this is Wright’s quote). As Sprinkle says, “Paul’s emphasis on God’s initial act of justification of the ungodly through grace is unparalleled – even rebutted – in the Scrolls” (170). From Sprinkle’s perspective then, there is further radical discontinuity between Paul and Qumran on this issue, whereas for New Perpective advocates like Wright, there is considerable continuity. Having read both, I think Sprinkle has a better case in this argument.

Chapter 7 brings an even more contentious issue into focus. Comparing Paul and Qumran on judgment according to works, Sprinkle sees both affirming future judgment on the basis of works. However, for Paul, epeically in his didactic letters, “the source and ultimate cause of all human obedience” is God (201). In hymns from Qumran, we see some continuity with this emphasis, but never in the didactic writings. Further, Sprinkle says, “it is more than just divinely empowered obedience that will push the believer through the pearly gates, but the unilateral act of God on Calvary and in the vacant tomb that secures both the initial and final verdict for those in Christ” (203). As Sprinkle then concludes, “I have not seen anything in Qumran – not even in the Hodayot – which parallel Paul’s thinking on this.”

After another brief excursus on justification by grace now and in the future, Sprinkle’s final motif is divine and human agency, though here he is providing a survey of early Judaism on the subject. This is done to help situate Paul and Qumran on the map so to speak in his conclusion. He sees similar concerns shared with other Jewish writers, but in the end, Paul “seems to push the envelope of God’s role in salvation with a complexity and precision that is unparalleled in the literature of early Judaism” (238).

Sprinkle provides a brief concluding chapter that summarizes the findings of his study. Overall, I found his case compelling. It helps that, much like Wright, Sprinkle has an ability to make what could otherwise be an impenetrable technical discussion into something you could read at the beach. I particularly enjoy whenever a writer offers lens and organizational categories to make sense of a broad array of texts. In this case, Sprinkle brings interpretive insight into an on-going discussion on Paul’s relationship to Jewish thought. Although he ultimately comes out in a position that would be more or less a classical approach (or Old Perspective) to Paul, he ends up there via a very nuanced path. He has wrestled well with the evidence, and you’ll find that his writing is worth the read.


Preston M. Sprinkle, Paul & Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency In Salvation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, August, 2013. 256 pp. Paperback, $24.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

Thanks to Matt Perman posting this, you can now watch a 10 minutes animated run-down on Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. It’s a book that is helpful if your job involves working with people, and I regularly return to it for insight. If you don’t have time to read it, you’re probably too busy (it’s a quick read or even scan). But, if you’ve got 10 minutes, this is well worth your time.

Say you wanted to brush up on your understanding of music notation. Maybe you’ve always wanted to understand music theory. Well, now you can.

Here is an online book that will help you get a grasp of music theory (thanks Lifehacker!)

Below is a chart showing all of the standard musical notations you might come across (larger via).

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A ring that makes you invisible? Sounds familiar right?

question-of-canon

Michael J. Kruger is president and professor of New Testament at RTS in Charlotte. He is the author of several books, notably Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. Now more recently, he has released The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate.

Though his canon book are related, they are not redundant. While his previous book focused more on explaining where we got the canon and why it is authoritative, this book focuses more on the canon’s very existence in the first place. Loosely, one could say the previous book was answering what, when, and how, while this one explores why.

The status quo that Kruger is challenging is that “the New Testament was not a natural development within early Christianity, but a later artificial development that is out of sync with Christianity’s original purpose” (17). This is what Kruger calls “the extrinsic model,” which is to say the canon was imposed upon the Christian faith from outside of it (18). He acknowledges there is much correct within this model and so his goal in writing is “not to deny the truth of the extrinsic model in its entirety, but to offer a well-intended corrective to its assessment and interpretation of some of the historical evidence” (20).

His plan is to focus on 5 tenets of the extrinsic model, giving each a chapter that is composed of assessment and response. In doing so, Kruger will be offering correctives from an “intrinsic model” of the canon’s development (21). This model is not the polar opposite of the extrinsic model but rather suggests the development of the canon was organic to the Christian faith. In some respects, proponents of either model could agree to many of the historical facts about the development. The disagreement is centered more on why the process started in the first place and therefore will radiate out to different understandings of the authority and composition of the canon in the life of the church past and present.

The five tenets that Kruger will interact with are:

  • We must make a sharp distinction between Scripture and canon
  • There was nothing in earliest Christianity that might have led to a canon
  • Early Christians were averse to written documents
  • The New Testament authors were unaware of their own authority
  • The New Testament books were first regarded as Scripture at the end of the second century

To the first, he says it is good as far as it goes, but more insight could balance our understanding of the canon. To the second, as well as the fourth, Kruger marshals evidence to strongly suggest otherwise. To the third, Kruger explains that while early Christians may have been predominantly illiterate, they were still a people who used and appreciated written texts in their communities. To the final tenet, Kruger suggests the date is a bit earlier than scholarly consensus would have.

While the main body of the text is not necessarily heavy lifting, it isn’t beach reading either (unless you’re me). Like his earlier book on canon (and presumably other writings), Kruger provides rigorous documentation in the footnotes. Two of the five chapters have over 250 footnotes in the span of about 50 pages and the bibliography is almost 40 pages long. Given that the book itself is right around 250 pages, that gives you an idea how the space within is used.

As for the argumentation itself, I’m already on board with Kruger’s thesis and I thought his previous book was excellent. So far as I can tell, he is fair with opposing views and never comes across as disparaging or derisive towards those with whom he disagrees. As such, I would hope that it is inviting to those who think the canon is either a late development or an imposition onto early Christianity. Kruger argues compelling otherwise and does so in a clear and creative way (by using insights like speech-act theory and a latent triperspectivalism). For anyone interested in New Testament studies in general and canon studies in particular, Kruger is a scholar worth your time.


Michael J. Kruger, The Question of Canon: Challenging The Status Quo In The New Testament DebateDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, October, 2013. 256 pp. Paperback, $24.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

9781433537080Beginning in chapter 3, Cosper surveys many of the types of stories we tell in our cinematic arts. We have stories of paradise lost and playing God (chapter 3), of the search for love (chapter 4), of original sin and falls from grace (chapter 5), of the frustration and futility in a post-fall world (chapter 6), of fear and mystery (chapter 7), of violence vengeance and judgment (chapter 8), and finally of heroes (chapter 9). As you can see, Anchorman references do not figure prominently.

A potential downside, depending on your viewing habits is that chapters 5 and 6 are off-limits unless you watch Mad Men and The Wire respectively. If you don’t plan to watch either, you can read through the spoilers (Cosper is kind enough to warn), but if you’re not that familiar with either show, those chapters won’t be as familiar. I haven’t started Mad Men yet, but I plan to, and when I do, I’ll come back to these chapters.

I generally avoid horror movies, but I had seen enough X-Files to read chapter 7 with interest. The money chapters for me though were chapters 8 and 9, so that’s what I’ll focus on here. I’ll circle back to chapters 2-3 and in the next post.

Chapter 8 split time between Dexter and the films of Quentin Tarrantino, mostly Pulp Fiction. I’m not a fan of Dexter, but Ali was and so I saw enough episodes to follow Cosper’s analysis. On the other hand, I enjoy a good Tarrantino film, so I was more engaged with what Cosper had to say. Cosper points out that Tarrantino’s films “have a strong moral thread that unites them: sin, judgment, wrath, and resurrection” (167). He is also a playful filmmaker who wants to have fun with his audience, blend genres, and generate discussion. His films, because of their often over-the-top character, help to present a story where vengeance on wrong-doing is executed and the happy ending is acheived, but in a way that isn’t sappy or corny. Our enjoyment of films like this points to our hope that one day all wrongs will be made right, a hope that only Christians legitimately have.

Chapter 9 is still kind of working in this vein by tackling hero stories. Cosper draws connection between the archtypal hero stories and the story of Jesus in the Gospels. The archetype was developed by Joseph Campbell, building on the work of Carl Jung. In comparing ancient hero myths, the stories were strikingly similar, and so Campbell worked out a kind of blueprint for these sorts of stories. Specifically, it looks like this (Jesus’ action in parenthesis):

  • Called Away (Incarnation)
  • Tried and Tested (his temptations and ministry)
  • Into the darkness (crucifixion)
  • Out of the darkness (resurrection)
  • Home again (ascension)

He then compares it to Frodo’s journey in Lord of The Rings, and Superman’s journey. He also charts how this journey is reflected in the stories of Katniss Everdeen, Luke Skywalker, and Harry Potter (189):

Stories We Tell Chart

Now one of the reasons for these similarities is that it just makes for good storytelling. Beyond that though, screenwriters are actually taught to do this explicitly. Building even further on the work of Campbell, Christopher Vogler spells out a more detailed hero’s journey in The Writer’s Journey (a book for screenwriters). As I previously pointed out, here are the stages in the first act, called Separation:

  • Ordinary World
  • Call to Adventure
  • Refusal of the Call
  • Meeting with the Mentor
  • Crossing the Threshold
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies
  • Approach

In the second act, which can be split into two parts itself, Descent and Initiation, there is the single stage:

  • Central Ordeal.

In the last act, called Return, the stages are:

  • Reward
  • The Road Back
  • Resurrection
  • Return with Elixir

Though I won’t elaborate on it here, you could use this grid as well for Katniss, Luke, and Harry. With a little help from Vern Poythress here is you can apply the above grid to Christ’s life and ministry. In the initial act (Challenge), Christ is in heaven (his Ordinary World) and is sent by the Father to redeem the world, which is a Call to Adventure that lacks a Refusal of the Call (Galatians 4:4-5; 1 John 4:14). At the outset of Christ’s public ministry there is a Crossing of the Threshold (Matthew 4:1-11). From there Christ makes Allies (the disciples) and Enemies (Satan, the Pharisees) and amidst the many Tests (challenges from Pharisees and demons) he breaks away often to meet with his Mentor (God the Father). All the while, Christ has set his face to Approach Jerusalem (for this emphasis, see Luke’s Gospel). In the second act, it is not a stretch at all to see Jesus’ crucifixion and death as the Central Ordeal of the gospel story (Matthew 26-27). In his death which is the start of the final act, Jesus was vindicated and received the Reward, completed the Road Back and was Resurrected from the dead. He then returned to his Ordinary World (heaven) having accomplished redemption and made the Elixir available to all who would believe (1 Timothy 3:16; Philippians 2:8-11; Romans 4:24-25).

As I see it, even though it happened in the middle of history, the Gospel is the archetype for all stories with a redemptive trajectory. Film is no exception, and Cosper makes that case as well in his writing. He wraps up the book with one more chapter, which along with chapters 3-4, will be the focus of my next post.