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C. Marvin Pate is chair of the department of Christian theology and Elma Cobb Professor of Christian Theology at Ouachita Baptist University and pastor of DeGray Baptist Church. His commentary on Romans is the first in the Teach the Text Commentary Series, which looks to be very promising.

As always, when a new commentary is introduced, the editors feel the need (and rightly so) for giving the rationale to readers for yet another commentary series. These commentaries, are specifically designed “to provide a ready reference for the exposition of the biblical text, giving easy access to information that a pastor needs to communicate the text effectively.” (vii) The divisions of the biblical are thus aimed at preaching units, and often throughout the body of the text the commentator offers explicit recommendations for how he approach certain passages.

These preaching units are further divided into the following sections:

  • Big Idea (exactly what it sounds like, the single point you could boil the text down to)
  • Key Themes (meant to support and flesh out the big idea)
  • Understanding the Text (semi-traditional exposition)
  • Teaching the Text (those recommendations I just mentioned)
  • Illustrating the Text (drawn from literature, film, history, biography, personal anecdotes)

The “Understanding the Text” section is further broken down to include the following elements:

  • Text in Context (rhetorical insights)
  • Outline/Structure
  • Historical and Cultural Background (helpful background details, often pictures)
  • Interpretive Insights
  • Theological Insights

This gives the commentary a nice flow to it, and keeps the focus on the essentials for teaching the text. Depending on how you look at it, this is either good or bad. Pate does a good job of being concise, offers numerous side bars and charts, and explains things clearly. If one were to use this commentary as a sole resource for preaching/teaching Romans, I think it would be a bad idea, but used alongside a major exegetical commentary (like Moo, Schreiner, or Kruse) it would a nice homiletical companion.

If I were going into more detail with Romans in my New Testament class, this would be what I would use. Pate gets straight to the point (which means there are not a lot of endnotes, usually only a half dozen per section) and if I were teaching a class just on Romans (which isn’t a bad idea) I would be relying much more heavily on this commentary than I did.

As far as actually commenting on Romans, Pate does a good job. He sees Romans itself as following the ANE suzerain-vassal treaties, but as a charter new covenant document. His outline then looks like this:

  • Preamble (1:1-15)
  • Historical Prologue (1:16-17)
  • Stipulations (1:18-4:25)
  • Blessings (5-8)
  • Curses (9-11)
  • Appeal to Witnesses (12:1-15:13)
  • Document Clause (15:14-16:27)

I’m thinking the last two might be switched up, as either a typo or editorial oversight. Either way, while interesting, I’m not sure I buy it just yet. Paul does rely heavily on Deuteronomy in Romans, but I’m not sure the structure comes from it or the treaty form.

Elsewhere, Pate tries to blend Calvinism and Arminian insights into a Calminian position when discussing 9:6-29 (194). I’m wary of mediating positions (like new covenant theology) and I think is perhaps worse since both Calvinists and Arminians denounce Calminian as a viable or coherent option. This isn’t a fatal flaw in the commentary per se, but it is at least one unhelpful theological insight.

On the plus side, I was impressed with the couple of anecdotes that Pate offered in his illustrations. Some of them came from another author (which is the only reason I can think why The Shack would be suggested as helpful for understanding the Trinity, 121), but in a couple of places Pate shares how he started his commitment to read the Bible for an hour every morning as a preparation for going into ministry (146-147) and that he prayed to be afflicted with the same rare, chronic illness that his wife has so he can understand her suffering better (115, and God said yes!). Though those don’t pertain to commentating on Romans specifically, I did find them helpful for the particular texts they were connected with.

Like I said, this volume shouldn’t replace Moo, Kruse, or Schreiner on your shelf, but for a homiletical commentary, I think this series is much better than Preach the Word. That series is more offering actual expositions, while this series is much more detail oriented works section by section through each preaching unit. In that sense, Preach the Word is like sample sermons to give you an idea of the flow of the text, whereas Teach The Text is more of the spare parts you need all in one place to put together a quality sermon. Pate does a great job of guiding readers through Romans and giving his interpretive wisdom and insight into how to best teach this text.

Book Details

  • Author: C. Marvin Pate
  • Title: Romans (Teach The Text Commentary Series)
  • PublisherBaker Books (January 15, 2013)
  • Hardcover: 368pgs
  • Reading Level: General Reader
  • Audience Appeal: Pastor/Teachers and lay readers who want to dive into an accesible Romans commentary
  • Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Baker Books)

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9780825424663

Herbert W. Bateman IV has done us all a huge favor. Especially if you teach or preach, you’ll want to pick up a copy of Charts on The Book of Hebrews. In it, Bateman offers over 100 different charts across 4 separate categories:

  • Introductory Considerations
  • Old Testament and Second Temple Influences
  • Theology
  • Exegetical Matters

In most of these, Bateman is synthesizing data from his own close study of the book. Elsewhere, he very helpful offers charts that show the viewpoints of the major commentators. So for example, the first 7 charts show both the history of thought on the authorship of Hebrews, as well as what pretty much every commentator has suggested for the writer of Hebrews. This kind of historical and contemporary consideration also comes into play for the charts on destination, recipients, date, and genre.

If you remember from my review of Jesus The Messiah, Bateman took the helm for navigating through the Second Temple literature. That comes in very handy with a book like Hebrews, where he offers 8 charts just on Second Temple Messianic figures as it relates to Hebrews. This goes along with his charts on general Old Testament quotes and allusions, the tabernacle and other elements of the Jewish cultic system, and the Second Temple Priesthood. In studying a book like Hebrews, these kinds of charts are invaluable.

The final sections offer charts on the Godhead, theological themes, words of exhortation, interpretive issues, text critical issues, figures of speech, and important words in Hebrews. Also, very helpfully there is a section at the end of the charts with brief notes on each chart that cross reference between the charts and point readers to additional resources. All this together makes Charts on The Book of Hebrews an excellent resource, and one that I would highly recommend to both pastors and teachers, as well as curious and inquisitive Bible readers. The former will get the most mileage, but the for the average Bible reader, there is much interpretive insight to be gleaned from these charts.

Book Details

  • Author: Hebert W. Bateman IV
  • Title: Charts on The Book of Hebrews
  • PublisherKregel Academic (November 28, 2012)
  • Paperback: 272pgs
  • Reading Level: Most are general reader accessible, but many are aimed at Bible school students
  • Audience Appeal: Anyone who loves a good chart and wants to dig deeper into Hebrews
  • Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Kregel Academic)

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In reviewing a book like this, I’m not really sure where to start. This is a small, yet incredibly dense volume. The density makes it almost impossible to summarize in a review form that is not just a recreation of the back matter. The book is only 131 pages long and only has 3 chapters. Yet, as the authors, Stephen D. Moore and Yvonne Sherwood note in the preface, these chapters began as a single conference paper, “After ‘After Theory,’ and Other Apocalyptic Conceits in Literary and Biblical Studies.” In exploring where biblical studies might go after Theory, the authors want to retrace the path created the biblical scholar in the first place.

The first chapter is concerned with Theory with a capital “T,” which is the proper name for poststructuralist theory (read: postmodernism). In exploring the rise and fall of Theory, the authors discuss all things methodology, the perennial scholarly obsession even to the point of methodolatry (their word). If you were ever curious about postmodernism’s rise, effect, and fall in literary studies in general, this chapter will get you up to speed.

Chapter 2 turns to the rise of the biblical scholar proper and is rather illuminating. With a brief stage setting in precritical biblical studies, the authors then detail the invention of “moral unbelief” a la Kant. This gap between the scholar’ personal religious beliefs and his scholarly focus is what would pave the way for the modern biblical scholar. In a state of “moral unbelief” the focus in biblical studies turned toward a primarily historical focus (are these stories true?) rather than a religious focus (should these stories inform the way I live?). The religious focus was increasingly denied, and the Enlightenment solidified this stance. The “Enlightenment Bible” was a book of problems (mainly historical) to be solved, not a book of solutions for how to live.

Chapter 3 then takes a critical look at the state of modern biblical studies and offers a proposal for a way forward. The chapter starts with detailing the biblical sub-sub-sub specialist. They use the example of a “Markan literary critic,” who is a subspecialist (studying the literary nature of Mark) in a subdiscipline (Markan studies in general) of a subdiscipline (New Testament studies) of a main discipline (biblical studies in general). Here is a person who’s entire publishing career may be devoted to a specific type of reading of 20 pages of the Bible. This leads to a field of study that is not only isolated, but increasingly in conversation only with itself, as the authors detail toward the end of the chapter. Instead of feasting on the text directly, the “picnic is increasingly being postponed” as the authors put it (107). The suggestion, in the closing pages, is that we move onward to the past and recover and in the final word of the authors, “we need to find religion.” (131)

This is a book for Ph.D students, and primarily those in biblical studies programs. While the type of biblical scholar the authors have in mind is the mainstream critical scholar, the insights will be helpful to those even in a seminary environment. It helps to explain why biblical scholars focus on the topics that they do and provides a helpful reminder that many professional biblical scholars treat the Bible merely as text to be dissected. The temptation is always present to move in that direction if you’re part of a graduate study program, but that is not an approach you will find in the major streams of the Christian the faith. It is recent, post-Enlightenment invention and these authors help to explain how it all came about. The book is heavy sledding, so its not for everyone. But if you’re in seminary or pursuing a Ph.D in biblical studies, this might be a good book to pick up.

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of the multi-view books. I think this is my fifth one to review, but it’s my first one to offer a giveaway for. Keep reading for detail on that.

Overview

Understanding Spiritual Warfare opens with a substantial introductory essay. Editors James Beilby and Paul Eddy have done their share of multi-view books, and they provide a strong foundation for the ensuing dialogues. They detail 3 broad issues that inform the spiritual warfare conversation: (1) moral objection to the spiritual warfare language, (2) the actual existence and nature of spirit beings, and (3) Christian perspectives on the theology and practice of spiritual warfare itself (2). Their opening essay contributes a vital part of the discussion in its own right, which is a marked contrast to the last multi-view book I reviewed.

With the stage set, the first contributor is Walter Wink, though his writing is edited together by Gareth Higgins. Wink is the only contributor who denies the existence of Satan and demons and this significantly weakens his overall model, the “World Systems” approach. Instead, he sees what we attribute to be Satan and demons is the emergent “soul” of corrupt world systems. For the most part, conservative evangelicals will find Wink’s liberal theology unpalatable and as David Powlison notes in his response, it really is a different kind of religion (77, in Wink’s case at least). Having misdiagnosed the issue, Wink’s approach is not attractive, but it gives the book an overall balance.

David Powlison is the next contributor, and his approach is dubbed “The Classical Model.” Every setting some biblical foundations, Powlison answers 5 key questions (98):

  • What is the look and feel of spiritual warfare?
  • How do we understand and help those involved in the occult?
  • How do we understand and help those living in addictive bondage to sin?
  • How do we understand the exorcisms in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts?
  • What about the experiences that are common in “spiritual warfare ministries” and in animistic cultures?

I like this layout and I think it really hits on the key questions we need to ask and answer on this topic. Honestly, I think the whole book would be stronger if each contributor had had to answer these questions.

Next comes Gregory Boyd with “The Ground-Level Deliverance Model.” I think this is the next strongest approach, even though I would disagree with most of Boyd’s theological positions. He at least takes the text of Scripture seriously and offers a model that grapples with the realities at work (unlike Wink’s approach). Boyd also offers some proposals for actually engaging in spiritual warfare, which are (1) wake up (to the reality of warfare), (2) live a revolting lifestyle against the kingdom of Satan, and (3) stand against demonic oppression and infirmities. (151-154) Powlison and Boyd really seem to be only separated by a theological divide, as Boyd affirms most of Powlison’s position (117-118) and only questions Powlison’s approach to divine providence (118-119) and feels Powlison may have overly domesticated the battle (119-122).

Lastly, C. Peter Wagner and Rebecca Greenwood offer “The Strategic-Level Deliverance Model.” Greenwood does most of the writing, but Wagner is the forefather/innovator of the position. As they understand it, spiritual warfare has a “ground-level” dimension (delivering an individual from demonic influence), a “occult-level” (more organized demonic presence through witchcraft, Satanism, etc.), and finally a “strategic-level” (power confrontations with high-ranking principalities and powers). To the latter, Boyd objects in his essay not to its practice in general, but that the Scriptural precedent seems that angels take care of this without our help (cf. Daniel). However, the majority of the essay is Greenwood offering anecdotal evidence for practicing this very thing. Though this essay is the most overtly focused on explaining how to do spiritual warfare, it has the least developed foundation, something each responder points out.

Conclusion

Overall, this is a very helpful book. The introduction sets out the issues nicely, and the contributors come from a variety of positions. Rather than each being a different shade of evangelical options, only the central two positions are. Though the final position is not entirely incompatible, it represents a well-developed approach that lacks appropriate biblical foundations, which is problematic to say the least. Maybe not as problematic as Wink’s denial of Satan and demons, but his approach is a kind of non-approach anyway.

Readers who want to dig into this subject ought to pick up this book, and here’s how you can win a copy. If you’re in RSS, you’ll probably need to click through to see the PunchTab form. As always, just follow the prompts to earn your entries! I do want to add this disclaimer though: I plan on starting a blog newsletter in the coming weeks or sometime before Google Reader’s demise. By entering your email, you are also adding yourself to the mailing list. You can enter the giveaway without using your email, but if you go that route, that is what you’re doing (and this will be true in giveaways from now on!)

Book Details

  • Editors: James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy 
  • Title: Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views
  • PublisherBaker Academic (December 1, 2012)
  • Paperback: 240pgs
  • Reading Level: General Reader/Bible School
  • Audience Appeal: Christians and especially pastors interested in the subject of spiritual warfare
  • Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Baker Academic)

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Perhaps this comes as a surprise, but I’m actually quite the musician. I have been playing the piano for over 20 years, including 12 years of classical lessons. I’ve also been playing the drums and the guitar since I was a high school freshman which makes me something of a triple threat. It was also late in high school that my friends Steven, David, and I began dabbling in writing and recording music. Our band recorded two Christmas albums and played several gigs around Knoxville. If you’re super nice to me, I might let you hear the latter of those albums sometime in the future.

As for me, I recorded my first album just before graduating high school. It was a collection of songs I had written on the piano during high school and I layered some string sounds over top of them. The result, you can listen to below (if you’re in RSS, you might need to click through):

After that album, I spent the summer working to buy more equipment. My plan was to skip out on college (for a year at least) and just work (which I did at Lowe’s) and make music. For the latter, I wrote and recorded the following album during the month of November:

The concept of the album was to move through three seasons (fall, winter, spring) and each season had 4 songs. The first song starts in the key of C#m (with hints of E) and from there the key signatures move in order through the circle of 5ths (12 key signatures = 12 songs). They are still mostly piano, but I incorporate several guitar based songs. I continue with the string layering, but I also add some “effects,” namely, a guitar tuned to an appropriate open tuning that I then used as a microphone to record key parts played through a Marshall half-stack. The key parts followed the already prominent piano parts which give them a kind of ethereal effect.

Alongside this, I worked on a concept album of songs all in the key of C#. I utilized an open tuning (C#F#C#FG#C#) on my acoustic and electric (the latter being rigged to be permanently a step and half down from standard, as it still is to this day) to make this simpler. I never quite finished it, but it was my first foray into full band songs, i.e. me being a literal one man band. I laid the drum parts down to a metronome and then layered bass, acoustic, and several electric parts on top. The goal was to finish vocal melodies and write lyrics, but I ended up going to Bible school the following fall, and we all know how that turned out. Anyway, you can hear the “lost sessions” here:

Lastly, in the middle of my college years, I re-recorded an old song with a new ending, a showy, solo acoustic song, the piano song that would eventually be the wedding music for our wedding ceremony, and my first hints of progressive rock. The result of that demo session you can listen to here:

For future reference, I’ve now added a link on the navigation bar labelled “Music,” which if clicked, takes you to my bandcamp page. Everything is already in this post, but I’ve been itching to get back into the music lately, and I think this summer might be a good time to do so!

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Steven Boyer is professor of theology at Eastern University and Christopher Hall is the chancellor, as well as the dean of Palmer Theological Seminary. Together they’ve collaborated to offer us a book exploring the role mystery plays in Christian theology. The over-riding metaphor that they use is that of the Sun as mystery. In that sense, mystery illumines what you can see, but is not something you can stare directly into without being blinded.

Using this as an organizing device, the book is split into two parts: The Sun and The Landscape. In the first part, we explore the nature of mystery (or the nature of “The Sun”) as best we can through both exegetical, theological, and historical studies. We look first at what mystery is and is not (chapter 1). Then, explore why mystery is necessary (chapter 2), as well as how it has been historically understood and employed in Christian theology (chapter 3). Finally, we look at how the knowledge of mystery relates to us as God’s image bearers (chapter 4).

In the second part, Boyer and Hall take detailed looks at several significant mysteries in Christian theology. Taking the framework articulated in the first part, they look at the doctrine of the Trinity (chapter 5), the incarnation (chapter 6), sovereignty and human freedom in the realm of salvation (chapter 7), the nature and function of prayer (chapter 8), and finally a chapter on how mystery is employed in world religions (chapter 9).

I think this book will prove to be a significant conversation starter. Even if you do not agree with some of Boyer and Hall’s theological conclusions in the second part of the book (like the middle course they try to chart between Calvinism and Arminianism in chapter 7), I found the way the see mystery relating to Christian theology very helpful. Indeed, you could make the case that Christian theology is essentially the study of three mysteries:

  • How am I saved?
  • Who is Jesus?
  • Who is God?

Fred Sanders has a good discussion of how the first question naturally progresses to the third, but Boyer and Hall provide a good framework for discussing mystery in the first place. If you’ve thought about picking up Rob Bell’s most recent book, I’d go for this more well reasoned and well researched book instead.

Book Details

  • Author: Christopher Hall & Steven Boyer
  • Title: The Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (November 1, 2012)
  • Paperback: 272pgs
  • Reading Level: Bible School/Seminary
  • Audience Appeal: Pastors and Students interested in digging deeper into the mysteries inherent in the Christian faith
  • Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Baker Academic on NetGalley)

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Something I don’t do as often anymore, but would like to change, is offer you thoughts in process. I think that’s kind of a big part of blogging. I used to use the blog to think out loud more frequently, but that was in its MySpace and Xanga iterations. I think in seminary I felt like I had to post complete thoughts and complete thoughts only. But, I’m not in seminary any more (but I live across the street from one).

Recently, as I’ve been teaching the Sunday night Doctrine class, and my 11th grade Bible class (which in this semester is a Christian doctrine class), I’ve been thinking about how we go through theology. “Systematic” really just means “ordered according to some logical principle,” and certain ground is expected to be covered. So, systematic theology is just theology that is ordered logically according to topic rather than traced in a linear way through either a single biblical book, or the entire Bible itself.

Good systematic theology is highly exegetical. That is, it is built by exegeting key passages of Scripture. Historical rootedness is helpful, but teaching theology should be more than just rehashing what major theologians have said. A good theologian goes back to the text, and as John Piper exhorted preachers last Wednesday at the inaugural Spurgeon Lectureship at RTS, we need to point people to the text so they see where we got it.

In light of all that, I’ve been wondering if treating the topics in a semi-reverse order might actually be better suited for many audiences. Consider for instance the major headings in the table of contents of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology:

  • Doctrine of The Word of God
  • Doctrine of God
  • Doctrine of Man
  • Doctrine of Christ and The Holy Spirit
  • Doctrine of the Application of Redemption
  • Doctrine of the Church
  • Doctrine of the Future

Similarly, here is the table of contents from Michael Horton’s more recent systematic, The Christian Faith:

  • Knowing God: The Presuppositions of Theology
  • God Who Lives
  • God Who Creates
  • God Who Rescues
  • God Who Reigns in Grace
  • God Who Reigns in Glory

Here we see fairly similar ground covered, but instead of “doctrine,” Horton orbits everything around God as the main actor. Gerald Bray does something similar, but focuses on love, hence his title, God is Love:

  • The Language of Love
  • God’s Love in Himself
  • God’s Love for His Creation
  • The Rejection of God’s Love
  • God So Loved The World
  • The Consummation of God’s Love

I could multiply TOC’s further, but I think you get the idea. They all tend to follow a general pattern. The pattern in and of itself is not what makes them “systematic,” but the fact that there is a clear pattern to it. Berkhof makes this point in his systematic, predictably titled Systematic Theology, where he points out that there are numerous logical orderings, but the point is that there needs to be some kind of logical/topical flow. The one at work in all of the above is starting with the foundation of knowledge, then moving to God, then forward through the biblical story.

If we are going to use the “ologies” for each of these focal points, it would look like this:

  • Epistemology
  • Bibliology
  • Theology Proper
  • Anthropology
  • Hamartialogy
  • Christology
  • Soteriology
  • Pneumatology
  • Ecclesiology
  • Eschatology

Now, what if instead of starting in the usual place (which really puts the most complicated doctrines right up front), we started were people are: the Gospel (or soteriology)

What I’ve noticed while teaching, and I owe some of this insight to Fred Sander’s The Deep Things of God, is people are most familiar with soteriology and the basic contours of the Gospel (if they’re in a good church). It is not self evident to them that epistemology is important for understanding theology and growing in their relationship with God. It is, but it’s not self-evident to the average church-goer.

So, what if a systematic theology was oriented toward readers who have a basic grasp of the Gospel, but want to grow in their theological knowledge? I think it would look something like this:

  • Work of Christ
  • Pneumatology
  • Person of Christ
  • Sin/Fall
  • Man/Creation
  • Church/Eschatology
  • Theology Proper
  • Bibliology
  • Epistemology

Here’s how I would think of it in terms of questions (and this is the part I owe to Sanders):

  • What did Jesus do for me? (past tense)
  • How is He relating to me now?
  • What more can I know about Jesus as a person?
  • Why did Jesus have to die, and how am I responsible?
  • What was God’s original intention?
  • How is God working to fix things now?
  • How can I know all this is true?

That’s kind of rough, but the idea is that people start with their grasp of the gospel and then move backwards. In order to go deeper into the gospel as the work of Christ, you move into his person and his Spirit. That then raises the question of why Jesus death was necessary, as well as what it means for him to be fully human. That raises the question of what is God’s plan in all of this, which leads to discussing the original creation, the final recreation, and the church’s role in that whole process. You’re already been employing a latent Trinitarianism, so the stage is set to explore that further, and in doing that you bring up the issue of revelation, which brings up the issue of epistemology.

I think moving in this way would pique interest better, but maybe that’s just me. After reading through this, what do you think? What would you alter? Do you think people would connect with theology taught in this direction?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts, so don’t leave the comments section lonely!

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Usually, I work off of a loose queue line for my review oriented reading. Big volumes are an exception, but in general, I try to work in a loose order of arrival. However, I always try to give each book a good initial perusal when it first comes in the mail. This involves judging the cover (don’t judge me for judging books by the cover, I still read them) and then noting the blurbs (not necessarily reading them, just seeing who blurbed). Then, I’ll read the preface and introduction and see if it hooks me enough to bump it up the queue line. Greg Thornbury’s Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Vision and Wisdom of Carl F. H. Henry arrived on a Monday night and got the initial perusal. I read the first chapter with my coffee Tuesday morning and finished it by Friday.

Overview

Basically, this book if for anyone who likes theology. Specifically, it’s for people who live evangelical theology, and even more specifically for people who want to philosophically defend evangelical theological convictions. In other words, it’s for people like me, and that’s probably why I read it in less than a week. Thornbury articulates a sentiment I developed in seminary and why I majored in philsophy/systematic theology:

So that it won’t haunt us, Thornbury offers a chance to recover classic evangelicalism via the thought of Carl Henry. To that end, Thornbury is effective, as you can see from my Tuesday morning tweet after reading the first chapter:

GRA, if you’re not familiar, is Henry’s magisterial God, Revelation, and Authority, a 6 volume work that is not widely read. Thornbury points out that some of this is due to the dense nature of volume 1 and advises potential readers to just jump into volume 2. Since I’ve had it in my Logos library for years and ignored it, this summer will be the perfect time to dig in.

As far as Thornbury’s book, he begins with a chapter exploring the lost world of classic evangelicalism. Current evangelicalism, which Thornbury likens to a “suicide death cult,” (17) has come a long way from its roots, and if that moniker is accurate (and Thornbury makes a good case it is) then we have some recovering to do. In this case though, the way forward is to go back.

To that end, Thornbury embarks on a recovery journey using Henry’s writings. He starts, appropriately, with epistemology (“Epistemology Matters”), before moving on to theology (“Theology Matters”), Scripture (“Inerrancy Matters”) and finally cultural engagement (“Culture Matters”). He concludes with a chapter on why evangelicalism matters, and makes a solid case for recovery rather than abandonment.

Along the way, we are given a window into Carl Henry’s thought by someone who has done a close reading of his works and can show us the way further up and further in. Thornbury thus accomplishes two things: (1) he presents a compelling case for traditional evangelical convictions, and (2) introduces a new generation of readers to the writings of Carl Henry. As a sub-accomplishment of the first thing, Thornbury also rehabilitates epistemology as an evangelical concern and shows that it not just the stuff of esoteric ivory tower dwellers. Rather, epistemology affects everything, and is vitally important to take seriously from not just an evangelical perspctive but a Christian perspective in general. Thornbury provides a good entry point to that topic, and points readers to Henry’s writings where they can dig deeper.

Conclusion

Clearly if you can’t tell, I loved Recovering Classic Evangelicalism. Thornbury is an engaging writer who juggles different domains of knowledge well, has a penchant for “appreciating odd juxtapositions,” and does it all in clear, readable prose. While readers with a more philosophical background will move more comfortably through these chapters, it is not a prerequisite to take and read this book. Really, anyone who is interested in theology and theological method will find Thornbury’s work helpful, and I hope many in that category do just that. While I was probably an easy reader to convince, I hope many people read this book and dig into Henry’s writings in particular, but more importantly, the concerns that Henry had in general. If we took philosophical foundations more seriously, our theology would be stronger for it. Narrative and story are helpful, but they are no replacement for propositional revelation. Henry took to defending it, and decades later, Thornbury makes a good case that it is still worthy of defense.

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I saw this tweet this morning, so that makes tomorrow today:

Just to catch you up to speed on what this is all about, here are some select tweets:


I think major news outlets are reluctantly starting to cover this (as seen by the NBC post), but they are very hesitant to frame it in relation to abortion rights. While we may vilify Gosnell as monster, he was giving people what they wanted on demand. We may say his methods are inhumane (which they are), but if you are going to abort a baby after 8 months in utero, there is a very good chance the baby will survive and you’ll have to do what Gosnell did: snip the spinal cord of a baby moving around on the operating table (which is essentially a beheading). As George Will pointed out, if you pay for an abortion you are owed a dead baby, and Gosnell did everything in his power to make that happen.

Like a good high priest to Molech, Gosnell made sure every sacrifice was ultimately successful. But in doing so, he crossed an ultimately arbitrary line that says what happens inside the womb is a woman’s choice, while what happens outside is open to criminal prosecution. We’ve allowed babies inside to be dehumanized, and once that happens, what a man like Gosnell does to them outside the womb is fairly consistent with that mindset. Gosnell should certainly face the harshest penalties the law can dole out, but the only thing anomalous about him seems to be that he was willing to butcher babies a few months later than most abortion doctors and he wasn’t going to let a successful delivery stop him.

As this gets more media attention, it will hopefully lead to some kind of action and policy changes. That might just be too much to hope for, but I can at least do my part to make sure you are aware of the story and can spread the word to others who might be blissfully unaware as well.

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Rice Broocks is the co-founder of the Every Nation family of churches, and is senior minister of Bethel World Outreach Church in Nashville.  He did his masters work at RTS and has a doctorate in missiology from Fuller. In God’s Not Dead: Evidence For God in An Age of Uncertainty Broocks is writing to three types of people:

  • The Seeker who is trying to believe but faces doubts
  • The Believer who knows God subjectively, but has a hard time articulating this faith to unbelievers
  • The Skeptic who may be reading from a critical point of view and perhaps already decided there is no God

His approach in apologetics is somewhat presuppositional and evidential (he may very well have studied with Bahnsen, depending on when he was at RTS Jackson and what classes he took). I think after reading it, he is really using evidences in a presuppositional manner, so his book represents a kind of popular level book in that vein.

Broocks begins with a short introduction telling his own conversion story before launching into the first chapter which introduces readers to the claims of many New Atheists. As he sees it though, in spite of the outspokenness of these New Atheists, belief in God is making a comeback, so much so that in 2009 the senior editor of The Economist co-wrote a book that retracted the obituary they published for God a decade earlier. This faith though is well grounded and isn’t just some blind irrational leap, and Broocks intends to show why that is the case.

Very helpfully, his first chapter is on reason itself. This is a good presuppositional move, and Broocks does an excellent job explaining how science and faith are not at odds because reason is grounded in the existence of God and science would collapse without it. Having established this, he turns the same kind of argumentation to good and evil, showing they are grounded in God as well.

The next few chapters zero in on scientific issues. First, Broocks shows how the case for the beginning of the universe actually works to the believer’s advantage. He wisely sidesteps issues related to interpreting Genesis to make the basic point that since science points to the universe having a beginning, it naturally raises the question of the existence of a Creator. He then talks a bit about the fine-tuning of the universe, adding to his case that much of what we are learning through the natural sciences actually supports the case for faith.

The following chapter deals with the emergence of life. He essentially offers an argument from design, but with a little more nuance than just a straight teleological argument. In numerous places he shows science’s basic inability to explain the origin of life in a satisfactory way. Evolution can explain developments, but it really can’t do much in terms of the origins of life from non-life.

Next, Broocks delves into the question of whether or not life has meaning and purpose. Since most people tend to treat it like it does, then a coherent worldview will need to account for how life can be meaningful and purposeful. Throughout the chapter, Broocks demonstrates that on evolutionary assumptions that the New Atheists all hold, life must be both meaningless and non-purposeful. He then highlights 10 specific differences that set man apart from the animals:

  • Our ability to think about our thinking (meta-cognition)
  • Aesthetic recognition
  • Language
  • Creativity and scientific exploration
  • Morality
  • Higher intelligence
  • Personhood
  • Culture
  • Our transcending the mere physical
  • Spiritual hunger

While up to this point Broocks is presenting evidence, I see him reasoning more like a presuppositionalist since he is showing that evidence cannot be made sense of, unless you presuppose God. After this chapter, he turns to more typical evidential concerns, starting first with the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection and then turning to the evidence for the reliability of Scripture. In the final two chapters, Broocks takes a slightly different evidential track, focusing on personal transformation. First, he explains “the grace effect” or the idea that grace, rather than bare religion, has a transforming effect on people and even whole societies that is an “evidence” hard to explain from an atheistic point of view. Second, he offers a chapter titled “Living Proof” which is essentially a collection of personal testimonies of lives changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the end, I found this both an enjoyable and beneficial read. I wasn’t presented with much evidence that I wasn’t already aware of, but I also do a lot more reading in this area than most people. I would imagine for the average person (and those three target audiences Broocks is writing for) this book will be a great introduction to several areas of apologetics. For the seeker it provides both evidence and presuppositional grounding of the Christian faith. For the believer with a hard time explaining, this book models a conversational and clear tone that can be followed in explaining the ideas to others. For the skeptic, it might not be ultimately convincing, but Broocks’ intention is to sow a seed of doubt (xix). I think this is an excellent way to approach things and actually conforms to how paradigm shifts occur. That makes this book a success by Broocks’ own intentions, and a book you should consider picking up if you’re interested in apologetics at the popular level.

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