51b0LPq4yGL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Jason S. DeRouchie ed., What The Old Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible. Grand Rapids: Kregel, October 2013. 496 pp. Hardcover, $45.99.

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Jason S. DeRouchie is associate professor of Old Testament at Bethlehem College and Seminary. In addition to this volume, he co-authored A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew with Duane Garrett. This work is the companion to What The New Testament Authors Really Cared About which was published a few years back. Here, DeRouchie has assembled a team of evangelical Old Testament scholars to complete a survey of the Old Testament in 25 chapters.

But not just any survey.

This survey has several distinctions.

DeRouchie explains the main ones in his book overview (23-24):

  • Each chapter synthesizes in 3-6 themes the lasting message of each book
  • It portrays the OT as the foundation and fulfillment of the NT making it gospel-saturated and text-based
  • It has a different chapter for each book of Jesus’ Bible (which means it follows the Hebrew ordering)
  • It continually stresses the lasting relevance of the OT through over 160 (!) sidebars
  • Introductory issues are condensed to a summary on the first page of the chapter
  • The project is collaborative, featuring 17 different OT scholars (folks like Stephen Dempster, Daniel Estes, J. Daniel Hays, Preston Sprinkle, Gary Smith, to name a few)
  • It is shorter and simpler than many other surveys, making it ideal for a single semester class textbook
  • The clarity is enhanced by nearly 200 hi-res photos, over 80 charts and tables (!) and 12 color maps

Speaking of the pictures, I know I’m not supposed to be excited about pictures, but the glossy pages and numerous pictures are quite nice for visual learners. Other surveys are not necessarily devoid of pictures (Walton and Hill for instance have the same glossy paper with numerous pictures), but What The Old Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible boasts numerous helpful diagrams as well.

One in particular is used to organize the entire story-line of the Old Testament and New Testament and I snapped a pic of it so you could see:

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Since this key only explains the small pictures, here’s the rundown on the acronym “KINGDOM” (30):

  • Kickoff and Rebellion (Creation, fall, flood)
  • Instrument of Blessing (Patriarchs)
  • Nation Redeemed and Commissioned (Exodus, Sinai, wilderness)
  • Government in the Promised Land (Conquest and united/divided monarchies)
  • Dispersion and Return (Exile and initial restoration)
  • Overlap of the Ages (Christ’s work and the church age)
  • Mission Accomplished (Christ’s return and kingdom consummation)

This chart is referred back to at the beginning of each section (Law, Prophets, Writings), to further keep readers oriented to the overall storyline of the Old Testament (obviously, we only get to D).

As a whole, this book seems to be a very useful textbook, particularly if you happen to be teaching high school Bible. You not only get the whole Old Testament covered in 25 chapters, none of which are outrageously long, you get it presented in a distinctively Christian way. That is to say, you get an Old Testament survey that is Christ-centered, but in a way that is still authentic to the original context and audience. To give a flavor for what DeRouchie hoped the survey would accomplish, here’s his conclusion in the introduction (51):

As you read through this Christian interpretation of the Old Testament, my prayer is that you will encounter God and find yourself changed more into his likeness. As you revel in the message of his Word, your life should develop heightened gratitude and hope, greater surrender and commitment, more intense delight and passion, all toward God in Christ. You should become more God-exalting and less dependent on things of this world. You should find yourself less self-absorbed and more ready to pour your life out in love for others, all in the strength that God supplies.

The prophet Isaiah foretold that, in the age of restoration, the remnant of Israel and the nations would all ‘be taught by the Lord’ (Isa. 54:13; cf. Jer. 31:34). John 6:44-45 records Jesus citing this passage and then saying, ‘Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me’ (John 6:45). May the Lord now grant you ears to hear, eyes to see, and a heart to understand, all in a way that helps you move toward Christ in heart and soul, ‘from one degree of glory to another’ (2 Cor. 3:18).

Not typically what you think of when you think “Old Testament survey” is it? And that’s probably because this isn’t your typical OT survey. Instead, it’s a OT survey that was crafted to be a “springboard to delighting in God,” and was written with the editor’s Sunday School class in mind (17).

With that in mind, I would say this is ideal for classroom use, but perhaps even more ideal for personal use. If you’ve struggled to understand the Old Testament and don’t really know where to start, this book might be it. I’ve accented the user-friendliness, but beyond that, it has several appendices, one of which is a rundown of the key Old Testament chapters (the real place to start in trying to understand the OT), and one of the others is The Kingdom Bible Reading Plan. It’s a plan designed to boost your grasp of the OT through reading it alongside the new in a 3-1 ratio. The OT readings are arranged so that you get one reading from each portion of the Hebrew OT a day (one from the Law, one from the Prophets, one from the Writings). Also, there are only 25 readings a month, which gives you the flexibility to miss a day here and there.

Using that plan, and reading this book should put you well on your way to understanding the Old Testament better. There are probably other ways to do it, but this book is the best survey I know of for the average person to pick up and read and not get overwhelmed. It is multi-sensory and devotional in orientation, and written by able guides to the 2/3 of the Bible you might not understand as well as you’d want to. And since Christmas is right around corner, now you know what to ask for!

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I decided to move these weekly posts to Saturday rather than Friday. This week, we’re back to two chapters in God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology. These two, and the next two, are rather meaty, so I’ll have to be selective with the highlights I share. I’ll try to give a selective quote from each heading in these two chapters. That’ll keep it somewhat short, but these posts will still typically be the longest I share on a regular basis. Without further setup, here’s the quotes.

Divine Substance and Divine Nature

Faced with a world that demands an exclusively human Jesus, and which is always trying to interpret human feelings as the work of the Holy Spirit, it is the Father who reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways and that, compared with him, we are impotent and unable to create even the simplest natural phenomena.1 The Father is not the personification of the divine being, but the person of the Godhead who reminds us of what God really is and to whom the work of the Son and the Spirit in our lives is directed.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share the same being, but they are in control of it, not the other way around. The persons can and do communicate with us, and, by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts we are privileged to share in their divine being by being allowed to participate in some of its characteristics, or attributes.

For God to be angry is not out of character for him but an expression of his nature in relation to particular circumstances. The God who loves us as his creatures also hates us as sinners who have rebelled against him, because he cannot tolerate us in that condition. The paradox is that he hates us because he loves us; if he did not care one way or the other, he might easily be indifferent to us and either do nothing or (more probably) destroy us without giving the matter a second thought. It is God’s love that has led him to redeem us, but he has done so because that same love has led him to hate us as we are—in him, the two apparent opposites are reconciled into one. Those who find this difficult to understand need only reflect on the way that parents treat their children when the latter get into trouble or cause embarrassment. There are things that we may be prepared to tolerate in other people’s children, and even find amusing at times, things that bring out our anger when we see them in our own offspring. This is not a double standard but a reminder that, when we are dealing with those whom we love and have a special responsibility for, we are less tolerant than we might otherwise be. In the same way, God disciplines those whom he loves, however hard it may be to accept it at the time, and if we are the recipients of such discipline then we ought to be grateful and thank him for taking such good care of us.

God is All Powerful

It is undoubtedly hard to understand how an all-powerful and loving God can permit the continued existence of evil in the world, when presumably he could snuff it out whenever he wanted to, but although this difficulty has haunted Christian theologians from the beginning, it is easier to live with its problems than with those that would be created if his absolute sovereignty were to be denied. A world controlled by God is a world in which he can always act to save us, even if there are forces in it that are prepared to attack and enslave us. If he were not ultimately in control of those forces, we could have no assurance that he is able to help us and could easily find ourselves in the depths of despair. In the end, it is easier to live with the problem of why God allows evil to exist than it would be to live with the problem of why evil forces should be able to thwart his will.

Can God Change or Suffer?

Against this modern perception that God is capable of inner change there stands the ancient and all but universal tradition of theology which says that God is “without body, parts, or passions.” In other words, God is not merely invisible, but he has no internal variations and is not susceptible to any outside influences either. Whatever his nature is, it is above and beyond anything that can engage directly with the created order.

What God is Not

The incomprehensibility of God is an idea that causes difficulties today because the meaning of the word is narrower than it was in ancient times, when “comprehend” had both a physical and an intellectual meaning. That is still true of a word like “grasp,” which we can do with our minds as well as with our hands, and so it would perhaps be better to speak about God’s “ungraspability,” even if there is no such word in the dictionary. God’s incomprehensibility means that he cannot be measured or contained either physically or mentally. Whatever impression we have of him can only be partial, and even if it is accurate as far as it goes, it can never be definitive.

The Goodness of God

An important subcategory of divine attributes is the one we generally classify as God’s moral qualities. Here it is his essential goodness that springs to mind as the most basic concept, and everything associated with that—his truthfulness, faithfulness, and purity—depends ultimately on that goodness. It is because God is good that he is truthful, because he is good that he is reliable, and because he is good that he is consistent.

What God Lets Us Share With Him

The word “holy” basically means “separate,” but God can be separate only if there is something for him to be separate from! It therefore makes no sense as far as his own being is concerned, but it does become meaningful when we talk about his relationship with his creation, which by definition is totally different from him and therefore completely “separate” (i.e., “distinct”) from his being. God’s holiness includes everything about him that sets him apart from the world, but over the years it has come to be understood primarily in relation to his moral and spiritual character.

Unfortunately, the fact that most modern Christians no longer interpret the concept of holiness as a series of taboos has often led, not to a deeper walk with God but to a different problem which is just as bad if not worse. Instead of recovering a biblical sense of holiness, the modern church is in danger of losing any clear idea of what holiness means or why it matters. The sad fact is that nowadays hardly anyone asks what they have to do in order to be holy, because they do not really want to be. There are people today whose parents would not have shopped on a Sunday because of the fourth commandment who now divorce and remarry almost as a matter of course, completely forgetting Jesus’ teaching that those who do such things are committing adultery. Worse still, ministers of the church are often just as bad as anyone else, and so are hardly in a position to exhort their flocks to more godly behavior! As a concept, holiness has virtually disappeared from the Christian vocabulary, and we have to admit that the main reason for this is that it has also disappeared from the experience of many Christians.

The God of The Old Testament

The teaching of Jesus was primarily concerned with the fulfillment of God’s promises that he would redeem Israel from its sins, rescue it from its enemies, and establish it forever as a righteous nation reflecting his eternal glory. Most Jews who thought about how this would be accomplished had come to believe that, at the end of time, God would send the Messiah, or “anointed one,” who would rally the people to his standard, expel the foreign invaders who had subdued them, and set up an empire in Jerusalem that would dominate the world. Messianic figures were not unknown in Jesus’ day, though they were invariably discredited by their failure to do any of the things expected of them. Undoubtedly there were some who thought of Jesus in the same way, and had he openly proclaimed himself as Messiah, they would have assumed that he had come to fulfill their Messianic expectations and would then have been devastated by his failure to do so.

The Old Testament gives us no clear example of a prayer addressed to God as Father. The closest it comes to this is when Isaiah says, “But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”16 Isaiah is acknowledging God as Creator, and using the term “Father” to express that, but although he goes on to plead for mercy to be shown to Israel because they are his people, he does not mention the concept of spiritual sonship. That concept does occur in the Pentateuch, both in Moses’ challenge to Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go and later on when they were in the desert.

We can therefore understand why it was that, when Jesus spoke of his Father, the Jewish leaders were scandalized that he would dare to refer to God with such familiarity. In their understanding, to call God “Father” was to claim to be divine, since a child has the same nature as its parent. Even Jesus’ own disciples did not understand what he was talking about and wanted him to show them the Father, somewhat to his exasperation! We may therefore conclude that, however legitimate it might have been for an ancient Israelite to call God his Father, such language was not used in ancient Israel and would have provoked a negative reaction from anyone who introduced it. If some modern Jews are prepared to speak in this way, it is almost certainly because they have been influenced by Christians and have expanded their traditional language to accommodate an ingredient of the Old Testament revelation that was not appreciated by their ancestors.

The Father of Jesus Christ

In other words, the Creator is God the Holy Trinity working together and not just one of the divine persons acting on his own. The history of the early church reminds us that identifying the Father alone as the Creator is risky because it opens the door to saying that the Son and the Holy Spirit must be creatures, and if they are creatures they cannot be God. There is no neutral ground here—the divide between the Creator and his creation is absolute, and one must be on one side or the other. If the Son and the Holy Spirit are truly God, as the New Testament tells us they are, then they must be co-Creators with the Father, who therefore does not (and cannot) stand in a creator-creature relationship to them.

What God said to the ancient Jews remains fully authoritative as his eternal Word, which is not canceled out or overturned by the coming of Jesus, but at the same time, the revelation of Jesus takes us to another level of perception. The first thing it does is enable us to recognize both the Son as God and God as his Father. Second, it restates the standard New Testament view that the Son is the Creator of the world, alongside the Father, and therefore is not a creature. Finally, it defines sonship in legal terms—the Son is the heir of all things, a position to which he is entitled precisely because he is himself God. Taken together, these three elements constitute the key ingredients of our belief that the God of the Old Testament is now revealed to us not as the Father alone but as the Father in fellowship with the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Person and Work of The Father

Divine love is not something added to the persons of the Godhead as if it were an external, controlling force. On the contrary, it springs from the inner desire of each of the persons of the Godhead to know the others in this way, and to relate to them in the manner appropriate to their identity and function. Because the second and third persons of the Trinity love the first and have given him the honor of precedence within their relationship, and because he has responded to their love by taking on himself the task of representing the divine being in its eternal transcendence and unity, the Son and the Holy Spirit, who are in every respect the Father’s equals, defer to him in the way they do. That deference is not a sign of subjection but a recognition that what the Father represents is what they really are, and that to deny him would be to deny themselves and render meaningless everything that they are and do.

To sum up, it is the Father’s special role to be the anchor person in the Trinity. He is the one who rewards the obedient, to whom we must give thanks, and to whom all glory and worship must be given. It is with that aim in view that the Son came into the world to reveal the Father, and that is what the Holy Spirit accomplishes by his indwelling presence in the hearts of believers. In assuming these responsibilities, the Father is not superior to the other persons of the Trinity nor does he dominate them. On the contrary, he has given them all that he has in himself and works together with them in everything that he does. The authority he possesses is an authority given to him by the other persons of the Godhead, and he exercises that authority in collegiality with them. This is the context in which we come to understand the person and work of the Father, and to honor him as he is revealed to us in and through his Son and his Holy Spirit.

Transcendence

The power of the Father was never more visible than on that first Easter morning when the Son returned from the dead, and yet he remained as invisible as ever, working in the hearts and minds of the disciples of Jesus and bringing them to faith without ever stepping down from the throne of his sovereignty over all creation. Even at that point, the Father’s ultimate plan and purpose remained a mystery, which it was not given to the Son to reveal. When Jesus was asked by his followers after his resurrection when the kingdom of God would be ushered in, he replied that he could not tell them the answer, because the time was known only to the Father, whose plan would not be revealed until the final consummation of all things.

9781781911303Alec Motyer, Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply PreachingFearn, Ross-Shire: Christian Focus, September 2013. 192 pp. Paperback, $14.99

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Thanks to Christian Focus for the review copy!

Alec Motyer was formerly principal of Trinity College and is a well-known author and Bible expositor. He’s written volumes in both New and Old Testament commentary series, 1 and is perhaps best known for commentary on Isaiah (which has a smaller counterpart in the TOTC series).

Here, he is sharing his wisdom on expositing the Bible in sermon form. As in, how to preach, not a collection of sermons. Its a short book, but it packs a punch. If nothing else, I think it’s a great book for someone who is just gettin started on thinking though how to put together better sermons.

The opening chapter orients readers the nature of his work, assuring us it presents no earth-shaking discoveries, nor is it completely novel (8). Instead, it is as the subtitle suggests, just some fairly simple thoughts on how to approach sermon prep.

Chapter 2 explains the type of work you are doing in sermon prep (distinguishing it from essay prep), while chapter 3 gives a very short theology of preaching. Chapter 4 talks about the nature of the person preaching, and with that the foundation is laid for the methodology Motyer will explain.

Chapter 5 is primer on the nature of exposition, explaining how it works, as well as giving tips on how to get the best mileage out of your studies (hint: take notes and then keep them organized, it adds up over the years). From here, Motyer covers 6 successive steps:

  • Examination (initial observations of the text, chapter 6)
  • Analysis (digging deeper into the text, chapter 7)
  • Orientation (finding the organizing principle in the text, chapter 8)
  • Harvesting (organizing your findings around the center, chapter 9)
  • Presentation (stylizing your findings for oral presentation, chapter 10)
  • Application (determining a point, a “so what?” of the text, chapter 11)

The constitutes the heart of the book, and as Motyer warned us, it is isn’t really anything that surprising if you’ve read a standard book on preaching before. His final 3 chapters wrap up with some wisdom on the importance of spirituality in the life of the preacher, as well as keys for a long term ministry of the word. Semi-inexplicably, there a 10 devotional appendices that give a thought a day for either 5, 6, or 7 days on a particular biblical or theological subject. These are interesting, and I would imagine rather helpful, but it was hard to see their direct connection to the main contents of the book beyond that they show how to examine a subject across several texts, or analyze a book in detail (which are both helpful skills to learn). They really weren’t introduced (from what I could tell), so I was a bit unclear on why they were there. But, hey there they are, and maybe it’s just best to think of them as a bonus (which is I guess what an appendix in a book is after all).

Overall, this book was a helpful overview for me. It is comparable to a book I reviewed a while back, Saving Eutychus. The difference is probably the Motyer is more focused on the studying side of preaching prep (though not to the exclusion of the others), which is its strength. Motyer is basically guiding readers through how to develop better sermon prep skills on the study side of things so that they can create a snowball effect over the course of their ministry.

That, I think is the particular value of this book. Besides that it is short and to the point, it carries the wisdom of someone who has been preaching and teaching for decades and knows how to explain to his readers how to develop a long term approach to studying the Bible for better sermons. If that is what you’re looking for, this is a great book. Also, it is great book if you want to just learn how to study the Bible a little better and know what you’re doing the next time you’re asked to speak somewhere (like me speaking at chapel every now and then for instance). If you want to avoid the anxiety that comes with last minute sermon prep, Motyer has some simple advice that will work wonders for your ability to prepare well for preaching.

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A couple of weeks ago, we finished Paul’s Letters with a look at my recommendations for commentaries on the Prison and Pastoral Epistles. Just to reiterate, these are my preferences and what make up my library (for the most part). There are definitely some great resources I’ve overlooked. What I’m trying to do here is give you what I typically look for, and in the case of individual books, what I think is the best 2 commentaries for a pastor to have on each (because I think you should have at least 2) and what is the best single commentary for the interested reader to pick up (who is maybe not a pastor). What I’m listing here is a) what commentaries I currently have and b) what commentaries I’m still tracking down (gradually and systematically).

Below, I’m giving you four recommendations for each book. The first two are the best technical commentaries (or at least what I go to for technical/exegetical work). The third is the best in-depth commentary for the average reader. The fourth is the best devotional commentary for someone who isn’t doing research or sermon prep, but just wants to understand the flow of the book better.

Today, we’ll continue our trek through into Paul’s epistles. If you’re keeping score at home, here’s the modified table of contents:

Hebrews 1

James 2

1 Peter 3

2 Peter/Jude 4

1-3 John 5

Revelation 6

Notes:

  1. Honorable mentions to Ellingsworth (NIGTC), Cockerill (see my review), and Allen (NAC) as far as technical commentaries go. For a beefier “devotional” option, I have found George Guthrie’s NIVAC volume very helpful. For a helpful commentary rich with historical perspective, consult Philip Edgcumbe Hughes volume. I know all this because I’ve been doing back end sermon research for a pastor preaching through Hebrews. On a weekly basis I utilize all of the commentaries I’ve mentioned except for Ellingsworth, mainly because the technicality is more than this particular pastor’s needs require. Lane gets the edge because of the layout of the WBC series which allows for neat summaries, while Bruce gets the edge over Cockerill for being concise, and because he’s F. F. Bruce
  2. Honorable mentions here are McKnight’s in the NICNT series, McCartney’s in the BECNT series, and Martin’s in the WBC series. I have Martin, but not the other two, though I am partial to volumes in both series. I also like McKnight as a commentator, mainly for his different perspective from mine on certain theological issues. Also worth noting is that Moo (whose commentary is the top ranked overall) wrote the volume in the TNTC series which would be accessible to more readers and is less extensive than his PNTC volume. Lastly, guys with last names starting with “M” like to write James commentaries
  3. Here the honorable mentions for more technical commentaries are Davids (NICNT) and Michaels (WBC). Also, McKnights’ NIVAC volume barely misses the cut. It fits somewhere between Grudem and Clowney, and I’ve found it useful in my sermon research
  4. I didn’t relist Schreiner here, but he is good technical but accessible work. Close on the more devotional commentary (but with substantial introductory matter) is Green’s volume in the TNTC series
  5. For an additional technical commentary, Smalley’s in the WBC series is helpful. Also so is Daniel Akin’s volume in the NAC series, and I imagine Jobes upcoming volume in the ZECNT series will be too
  6. Honorable mentions here are Osborne’s BECNT volume (from a pre-mil perspective) and Morris’ TNTC volume (more extensive than Poythress and probably a good read in tandem). I should note the commentaries in the actual list are all in the a-mil vein, and Beale’s, though in a more technical series, is the best, and less technical than the other volumes in that series, but is a daunting read. That’s why it is placed 2nd and not 3rd

9780310514879James Stuart Bell, with Patrick J. Kelly, Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions From The Early Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, October 2013. 400 pp. Hardcover, $24.99

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I think I’ve mentioned on here before that I’m not usually a huge fan of devotionals. I am however willing to give one or two a try. It’s kind of yearly thing, and if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll probably see my post a review of a devotional I did last year.

This year, I thought I’d check out James Stuart Bell’s Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions From The Early Church. Mainly, I was curious to see how it would be put together, and whether it was something I’d like to integrate long term (or at least utilize here and there). I’m not sure if its really for me personally, though Ali and I are reading a day to supplement when we are pressed for time with our family devotions. It could however be for you, but I should probably tell you more about it so you can make up your mind.

The general layout is a daily devotion for each day of the year, though day numbers are used instead of dates. If you want to, I suppose you can do the calculations and figure out which day is which (today is day 316 I think). Or you can just start at day 1 when you first pick this up.

As you are reading, you are greeted with a title and a short verse. The main body of the daily reading is drawn from a particular writer in the early church. The span of writers goes from the early second century (someone like say Justin Martyr) up to the 8th century (with someone like say, John of Damascus). This means you are getting gleanings from writers known as the church fathers if you are keeping score at home.

Some readers may wonder why we should even care about what the church fathers have to say. To that, Bell offers these reasons:

  • They can offer a corrective to some of our modern imbalances
  • They shared a great commitment to Christian doctrine (some exceptions of course)
  • They were committed to Scripture
  • They had a commitment to personal virtue and Christlikeness
  • They were concerned for pastors

More could be listed, but Bell seems sensitive to the fact that many general readers will think the church fathers archaic or perhaps too daunting to investigate. To counter that, he is offering readers an easy entry point and focusing on the writings that will feed readers devotionally.

Of the portions that I read, they were surprisingly accessible. I probably shouldn’t have been that surprised since the whole thrust of the devotional is that readers’ “faith will be reawakened” as they read these early church writings, which means they need to be selections accessible to the average reader who might not know Athanasuis from Anselm.

On the whole, I think the selections give readers a good flavoring of the various voices the church fathers have. Occasionally, a reading spans a couple of days instead of being confined to one, but for the most part the days are stand alone, so you could skip around.

A different pathway through this book would be to look up the brief biological sketches in the glossary, pick a church fathers that interests you, and then progressively read each day which features a selection from his writings. You could do this alphabetically, which would be interesting to say the least.

The one downside that I could pin-point in all of this is that readers are not alerted to where the selection is drawn from. Most readers probably will not care, but if you’re like me, you kind of like to know where you could read more if you are interested. Unfortunately, while there is a glossary and a scripture index, there are no endnotes that catalog where the writings are drawn from.

Aside from that, if you are unfamiliar with the church fathers and would like an accessible entry point into some of their devotional wisdom, this might be a book for you. If you’re already familiar with the fathers, you might like reading their writings in a devotional format. If you’re not familiar and not interested, then I think you’re missing out (though you’re certainly free to never explore anything the fathers have to say). If you don’t like devotionals, well, I can sympathize. But if you do, then you probably ought to give this one a spin if you’re the market for something new (or is it old?).

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This week we only went through one chapter of God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology. Part of that is because of the testing schedule, and the other part is because it is the opening chapter on the Trinity. Bray avoids getting too technical, but it is a bit of a more taxing discussion than any chapter up to this point. He spends a good deal of time discussing the meaning of Greek and Latin terms and their relation to theological discussion on the Trinity. I found it very helpful, but also wondered to what extent it would be understandable to the average person. It’s a tough field to survey, but in the end I thought Bray handled it well. Here’s my highlights:

Three Persons In Fellowship With One Another

Our knowledge of God is not rooted in mental constructs, even if they are correct, but in personal experience. That experience is not the result of intellectual deduction from the nature of reality, but is the fruit of an encounter expressed in the Bible as a relationship of faith.

Faith in God, however, involves two-way communication, which means that there is something present both in us and in God that makes such dialogue meaningful. That something is what we call “personhood,” and so it is with the personhood of God that our analysis of how we know and experience him must begin.

It is only in and through that experience that we come to know that the underlying being of God is one, and begin to understand what that really means. If the fundamental principle of our theology is that God is love, then we must start with the divine persons and not with the unity of God’s being. The concept of love implies that there must be someone or something to be loved. Of course it is possible to argue that, even if God were a single person, he would still be self-aware and could love himself, but the biblical idea of love is something more than self-esteem.

The great Augustine of Hippo (354–430) solved the problem of how the one God could be a God of love by saying that his self-awareness had an identity of its own, which he called the Son, playing on the fact that “conception” can be both physical and intellectual. God conceives of himself as he truly is, and loves that self-awareness as he loves himself. In this way, Augustine identified the primordial God as the Father, his self-awareness as the Son, and the love that the Father has for that self-awareness as the Holy Spirit, who binds the Father and Son together.

The Trinity Is Eternal

Modalism may have encouraged some Christians to use the word “person” to describe the three modes of God’s activity, and it was certainly a factor that contributed to the unwillingness of many to accept it as a valid way of expressing the divine threeness. “Person” had originally been the word used for “mask” in the ancient Greek theater, where the character being portrayed was identifiable by the mask the actor wore. A change of role meant a change of mask (or person), a device that allowed a single actor to play many different parts. Once the drama was over, the masks would be discarded and the actor’s identity would become plain, which is what the modalists thought would happen with God. They believed that at the end of time, when the work of salvation was finally accomplished and creation had been transformed into something eternal and different from what it is now, God would no longer have to play the parts of creator, redeemer, and sanctifier, and so the Trinity of persons by which we know him would give way to the knowledge of the one true God.

The Trinity Is Relational

If the love of God is eternal, then the persons who manifest that love must also be eternal, and any theory which suggests that one of them brought the other two into being must be rejected. This is easier said than done, however, because the language of generation and procession used in the Bible clearly suggests that there is a derivation of some kind from the Father, even if this cannot be equated with an event that can be pinpointed in time. The early Christians found nothing more difficult than surmounting the notion of causality among the persons of the Godhead. As a result, we find them using terms such as “eternally begotten” as the best way of reconciling the words of the Bible with their assumption that God’s being is eternal, even though the expression itself is a logical contradiction.

The language of generation and procession used in the New Testament must be understood in relational terms, not causal ones. This means that in some mysterious way unknown to us, the three persons of the Godhead must have decided to relate to each other in the ways just described. The sonship of the second person is not an accident of birth but the result of a voluntary act—not his alone, but that of all three persons, since they have a single will that is common to them all. Similarly, the identity of the third person is the result of a free choice, made not only by him but by the three persons acting together. Finally, the fatherhood of the first person, though not described in such terms, must also be the result of a free act on the part of all three, a reminder to us of their common mind and purpose. How this can be is a mystery that goes beyond our ability to understand, because it speaks of things that subsist in the eternal being of God, which is incomprehensible to us. When we speak of a “voluntary decision” taken by the three persons acting together, we are using a human concept to explain a divine reality that is worked out in eternity. As far as we are concerned, it has always been like that and always will be—there never was a time when things were or will be otherwise, because there is no time in God.

The Father shows his love for the Son by supporting him throughout his earthly ministry of reconciliation, even to the point of raising him from the dead, and finally by exalting him so high that the Son becomes his co-ruler and co-judge. The Father’s love for the Holy Spirit is not openly stated, but it becomes clear when we realize that he shared his intentions with the Spirit, who was then sent to reveal them to the apostles and prophets. The love of the Son for the Father is most fully revealed in his act of self-sacrifice on the cross, when he took our place by becoming sin for us, bore our punishment, and reconciled us to God by paying the price demanded by the Father’s justice. But at every point in his earthly ministry, the Son made it clear that he had come to do the will of the Father who had sent him, and in his obedience to that will he demonstrated what the demands of love could mean.

What Is A Person?

We may find the controversies about the Trinity that plagued the early church confusing, but one of the main reasons why they occurred was because the Greco-Roman world had no single concept for what we now call “personhood.” Because of that, the early Christians were not sure how to describe the God of the Bible, who reveals himself in what we call “personal” terms. Of course, there were plenty of human beings around back then whom we would not hesitate to describe as “persons,” but this analogy would not have been helpful to the fathers of the early church. They were only too well aware that the pagan gods were portrayed as glorified men and women, and they were determined that the Christian God should not be confused with them.

Given that God is not a human being and that his divine nature is completely different from our human one, finding a way to express this relationship was more difficult for Christians than it would have been for pagans, who thought of the gods in their own image, even if the gods could do things that ordinary humans could not do. Christians had to find a way of explaining how God can relate to human beings, even to the point of becoming one himself, without ceasing to be eternally transcendent. The need to do this was imposed on them by the fact that the Son of God became a man in Jesus Christ, and they had no ready-made vocabulary to describe what had happened. Early Christian theology was not a speculative exercise that tried to figure out how the divine and the human could interact, but an attempt to make sense of an event that changed the way they thought of themselves and the world in which they lived. They did this in Greek, because that was the international language of their time, and they chose words that already existed, since otherwise they would not have been able to preach their message without inventing a jargon of their own that would have been more of a hindrance than a help to communication. But in the process of doing this, they selected their terminology and defined it much more carefully than the ancient Greeks had ever done. This took time and caused misunderstandings, especially when attempts were made to translate Greek terms into Latin. Latin was not as developed a language then as it later became and was therefore less able to accommodate technical theological terms, but as it is from Latin that our own terminology is largely derived, we have to understand how the early church handled its translation difficulties.

In Tertullian’s day, that had not yet happened, so instead he used the word substantia, the term which was then generally accepted as a translation of both ousia and hypostasis—a good example of what the Greeks meant when they said that Latin was crude and unsuited to subtle theological discourse! This of course left him with no obvious word for hypostasis when it had to be distinguished from ousia, as it did in the case of the Trinity. Faced with that challenge, Tertullian came up with the word persona, which seems to have come into Latin by way of Etruscan (phersu). The Etruscans, however, had taken the word from the Greek prosōpon, which originally meant “mask,” and so all the problems associated with the Greek word were liable to resurface, as they eventually did.

The most important long-term achievement of the Council of Chalcedon was that it transcended the limitations of the thought-world of ancient Greek philosophy, in which both Alexandria and Antioch had been imprisoned, and restructured Christian theology on a new and different basis. It did this by decreeing that a “person” is not to be understood as a manifestation of an underlying substance (ousia) that determined what it could and could not do in line with that substance’s nature (physis). Instead, “person” is to be treated as a theological principle in its own right, logically prior to both the substance and its nature and therefore superior to them. This revolution in theological thinking occurred when the council said that the divine person of the Son of God took on a second nature by becoming man, making his divine hypostasis the hypostasis of his humanity as well. Subsequent debates established that this second nature was a substance (ousia) in its own right, fully equipped with a soul, a mind, and a will that were neither subordinate to the Son’s divine nature nor dominated by it. In other words, by saying that the union of the two natures in Christ was hypostatic (i.e., personal), the fathers of Chalcedon made the natures dependent on the one person/hypostasis and not the other way around. In the incarnate Christ, the divine hypostasis controlled each of its two natures (physeis), giving the person of the incarnate Son the freedom to employ them as he chose without being constrained by either of them.

The incarnation of Christ, however, challenged the purely transcendent monotheism of Judaism and forced Christians to tie their doctrine of God to their understanding of humanity. The result was a Savior who was fully divine and fully human, but who remained a single person whose ultimate identity was anchored in the fellowship of the Trinitarian God.

Modern Difficulties With The Term “Person”

God does not have a “personality” in the modern sense of the word, because he cannot change, but it would be hard to deny that he is somehow personal. Even those who define “person” as “center of consciousness” are usually prepared to accept this, despite the problems it creates for the Trinity and for our understanding of the incarnation of Christ. If the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three “centers of consciousness,” what are they? To speak about them as “modes of being,” as Karl Barth and others have done, is problematic because that kind of language is liable to land us back in the very modalism that the early church tried so hard to escape from. If we accepted it, how could we say that God became a man in only one of the modes of his being? What would Jesus’ “center of consciousness” have been if that were the case? Jesus Christ was obviously a man, but what is it that makes him God as well? Even if his human “center of consciousness” were perfectly in tune with God’s, that would still not make him divine. In the final analysis we have to say that the word “person” expresses something about God and about the incarnate Son that cannot be captured by “center of consciousness” or “mode of being.” We therefore have to conclude that to abandon “person” in favor of some other concept can only diminish our understanding of who Jesus is, of how he relates to the other members of the Godhead, and of how we relate to him.

In the end, the best way to think of personhood is to say that being a person means having the capacity to give and receive love. The persons of the Godhead love each other fully and completely. Their mutual love constitutes their being and determines their actions, which are not constrained by the limitations inherent in their divine nature but are governed by the relationship that each of them has with the others. The incarnation of the Son would have been impossible if the persons of the Trinity were circumscribed by their divine nature. But when the Son demonstrated the depth of his love for his Father by taking on the role of a servant, he assumed a human body and the incarnation became a reality. As human beings, we are persons because we have been made for love—love of God in the first instance, but also love of one another and of ourselves. Our love may be imperfect, it may grow cold, and it may be diverted to things that do not deserve it. But even when we abuse it, it is love which expresses the meaning of our life and which we display in everything we do. We may love the things of this world and show no appreciation for the love of God, but God nevertheless continues to love us as persons, and it is as persons that he calls those whom he has chosen to enter into eternal fellowship with him.

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N. T. Wright, Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978-2013Minneapolis: Fortress, November 2013. 640 pp. Paperback, $69.00

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Thanks to Fortress Press for the review copy!

If you don’t know who N. T. Wright is, I foresee a Google search in your future. If you read this blog regularly, I’m assuming Wright needs no formal introduction. He is the (in)famous popularizes of the New Perspective on Paul (though he would not like to especially be known for that) and is a prolific writer.

To demonstrate that fact, Fortress Press has published a collection of his articles and essays on Paul to complement the release of the 4th volume in his Christian Origins and The Question of God series, Paul and The Faithfulness of God (which is on its way via media mail, if you’re curious). I believe this series is projected to have 6 volumes, but much like George R. R. Martin, Wright gets carried away in his writing, and the 4th volume ballooned in a 1700 pp. two book set. Also, there is a certain race against the clock, if you know what I mean (and I also think both authors do a fair bit of “trolling” readers from time to time).

In addition to such an extensive 4th volume, this installment comes with two companion volumes. The first to be released is Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978-2013. The second will be Paul and His Recent Interpreters in Feb. 2014 and is the paltriest of the lot, boasting a mere 384 pp. The former is obviously the focus of this post, so here’s the rundown.

The book is split into 4 parts that follow geographic rather than topic divisions. In other words, the essays are ordered chronologically rather than topically. So it looks kind of like this:

  • Oxford and Cambridge (1978-1993)
  • Lichfield and Westminster (1994-2002)
  • Durham (2003-2010)
  • St. Andrews (2011-2013)

This isn’t Wright’s first collection of essays and he clarifies that there is some overlap in the material here and in Paul: Fresh Perspectives as well as Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. However, this seems to the sum total of essays, lectures, and articles published elsewhere, now collected into a single volume.

In approaching reading this volume to get a grasp on Wright’s Pauline theology, he has some advice in the preface:

By no means have all these articles, as it were, the same status within my developing project of Pauline theology. Some, as will readily be seen, are ephemeral, responding to particular moments and challenges. Others, however, are loadbearing, offering a fresh account of a particular theme or set of passages and arguing the point more fully than I can do in PFG. (xviii)

What are the load-bearing articles? Well Wright lists 7 of the 33 total:

  • The Paul of History and The Apostle of Faith (orig. pub. in Tyndale Bulletin 29 [1978]: 61-88)
  • Paul and The Patriarch (orig. pub. in Journal For The Study of The New Testament 35, no. 3, 2013, 207-41 [this is a longer version])
  • Paul, Arabia, and Elijah (orig. pub. in Journal of Biblical Literature 115, no. 4 [1996]: 683-92)
  • New Exodus, New Inheritance: The Narrative Substructure of Romans 3-8 (orig pub. in Romans and The People of God: Essays in Honor of Gordon D. Fee: 1999)
  • 4QMMT and Paul: Justification, Works, and Eschatology (orig. pub.in History and Exegesis: New Testament Essays in Honor of Dr. E. Earle Ellis: 2006)
  • Romans 2.17-3.9: A Hidden Clue to The Meaning of Romans? (orig. pub. in Journal For The Study of Paul and His Letters 1, no. 2 [2012]: 1-25)
  • Messiahship in Galatians? (orig presented at 4th St. Andrews Conference on Scripture and Christian Theology, will be published in Galatians and Christian Theology: Forthcoming)

As you can see, several of these you could just roundup if you have access to a seminary library. The last one though is only published here (for now) and the second one is a longer version that Wright thinks is fairly pivotal. Additionally, Wright has added real life commentary to the beginning of each article to give you a kind of “historical background” to why he was writing on that particular topic at that particular time. He hopes that will encourage young scholars to see there is no often a grand scheme in mind when you begin your publishing career, but often one takes shape over the course of time.

I lay all this out so you can see what this volume offers to decide whether dropping money on it is the thing to do. If you’re going to ETS you can probably get a good deal (if you can grab it quick), but right now you’d be hard pressed to get it otherwise.

I suppose it all depends on how seriously you want to engage Wright. If you’re a New Testament guy, you probably ought to grab this and give it a slow read along with the Paul and The Faithfulness of God. Not necessarily because you’ll agree with everything, but because it is a massive work of creative scholarship that you can a) learn a lot from and b) will probably need to engage at some point if you’re a teacher.

If you’re not a NT guy (and you can take that both ways), you probably don’t need to add this to your library. It is a good resource, but it is kind of like an extended appendix. Since he’s not Vern Poythress and didn’t want 33 appendices published in a work that is already 1700 pages and split into two books, Wright opted to publish it separately.

Since I do have a review copy, I will probably start by reading the 7 load-bearing articles, and then pick and choose what looks interesting from there. I may report on my findings in another post, or I may use to inform my section by section review that I’ll do on the main show (so that I can complete my own series review of Christian Origins and The Question of God). This post is really just a preview since the book is a hot topic, and I figured the least I could do is let you know what you’re getting into if you want to grab a copy.

In the meantime, it looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me, but hey, I think I’m up for the task.

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Back in August, I joined a challenge on Facebook to pray for your wife for 31 days (actually I prayed for my own wife, but you get what I’m saying). It helped me develop the habit and gave me a specific thing to pray for each day.

Naturally, I decided it would work in September as well, and so having made a recurring to-do item in my to-do app (called 2Do by the way), I was reminded each day, but had to look up the post on Facebook. Kind of a pain, but then a PDF ebook thing was put together, and I could just consult that to remember what I was supposed to pray for each day.

That kind of worked, but consulting a PDF in Goodreader wasn’t the smoothest operation everyday. Others noticed this, and one went to work on a solution.

Finally, today, much to my surprise, an app was released, and you my male friend, should go download it. You may already have a super-awesome habit of praying for your wife everyday, but this will help broaden your prayers. And, if you’re like me, and didn’t have the best habit down in the first place, this is a great place to start and a good way to keep yourself faithful in praying for your wife (even if you don’t have one yet!). It will force you to put thought into what you are praying for your wife and develop your habit of praying for her in a variety of different ways.

I’ve been doing it for 3 months now and this app I’m sure well help keep me going strong in the months to come. It’s already taken the place of my Twitter app on my home screen (more on that later), so even if I don’t have time everyday for personal devotions, I still have my phone with me all the time, and since I have the habit of checking it, having the app right there serves as constant reminder.

All that to say, if you have a wife, you need to be praying for her, and this app will help you do that well. If you don’t have a wife, why not develop the habit now?

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I think we’ve settled into a rhythm with our trek through God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology. I’ll probably have to reduce the quotes that I share to keep these posts reasonable, especially since the next section is on the Trinity. For these two chapters, here are my take-aways.

The Practice of Theology

The primary purpose of theology is to teach us what should be common to the faith of every believer. The love of God reaches out to each of us individually, and no one person’s experience will be exactly the same as another’s. But we all have a great deal in common because we know and love the same God. Theology does not focus on us and our feelings but on God and the way he has revealed himself to us.

In this sense, the theologian performs a task like that of a medical doctor. People go to the doctor with their pain, and the doctor is expected to diagnose its cause and treat it. This requires a specialist’s knowledge that often outstrips the patient’s understanding, but without it a remedy is unlikely. Folk medicine may accidentally lead to a cure, but it may just as easily kill the patient or make his condition worse. Of course doctors are not infallible, and some things are just as mysterious to them as to anyone else, but at least they have an analytical framework within which they can locate particular problems and hopefully avoid erroneous prescriptions. Similarly, a professional theologian is there to guide believers into understanding their experience in the right way and to warn them against false trails that will lead them astray.

Theology is therefore a call to intellectual humility. It leaves us with paradoxes that cannot be fully resolved and questions to which there is no clear answer. If we can acknowledge this and come to terms with our own limitations, then all will be well. But if we try to go beyond what we are entitled to know, we shall be rebuffed and may have to face the unpleasant consequences of our overweening pride.

The fundamental difficulty with philosophical approaches to God is that they are based on theories developed in order to make sense of the world. In that context, philosophy is a valid discipline. We have been given minds to examine the created order over which God has placed us, and we have a duty to figure out how it operates—so that we can exercise our dominion in a responsible and constructive manner. It is reasonable for us to suppose that the logic we perceive in creation reflects the mind of the Creator, who must have a reason for ordering the material universe in the way that he has done. But to extrapolate from this to the idea that by studying creation we can know the being and mind of God is to go too far.

The task of a Christian philosopher is to show how his discipline can and must be understood within the parameters laid down by theology, and to show that philosophical attempts to dispense with the need for a divine self-revelation are doomed to failure. His duty is to defend what God has told us about himself by showing how it coheres with material reality, not to build a theory out of that reality which then purports to be a justification of the existence and activity of God.

One of the most important theological concepts for the life of the wider church is that of economy, which allows for flexibility in the way we apply fundamental principles to differing circumstances. To this must be added the subsidiary principle of the so-called adiaphora, or things indifferent. The adiaphora are those matters on which a local church is free to make its own arrangements and insist on them as part of its internal discipline, without claiming that they have a divine sanction so specific that no other pattern is possible. Both economy and the adiaphora make us highlight those things that are essential and encourage us to concentrate on them rather than on secondary matters.

Theology and Faith

The work of convicting hearts and minds is done by the Holy Spirit, without whom our efforts can only be pointless and unfruitful. We preach Jesus Christ, not because we believe that we are superior to others but because we want them to benefit from the same spiritual blessing that we have found in him—and only in him. The love of God is not a vague, well-meaning or wishy-washy experience that we can share or not as we choose, but a life-changing message that we must proclaim out of our love for him and out of his love for the world he has made.

In human life we often see people falling in love with each other, but it is by no means always clear why they do so. At the same time, there are people who look for love and fail to find it, and that is another mystery. How is it possible for me to love someone and not be loved back? Why is it that some people’s good will, dedication, and willingness to make sacrifices end up producing nothing in return, while other people mistreat those close to them in the most flagrant and abominable ways, but retain the love of those whom they abuse? We do not know the answers to these questions, even though we observe such things going on around us all the time. But if we cannot explain what we experience at the human level, which we understand and to some extent think we can control, how can we expect to fathom the love of God for his people? Why do we disobey him when he has sacrificed everything for us? Why does he continue to love us, even when we do everything in our power to hurt and deny him? We cannot explain this, but every Christian knows from experience that it is so, and we are grateful to God that in his love he will never abandon us, no matter how far we stray from him.

Good theology cannot make people behave like children of God, but unless they have good theology, God’s children will not know how they are supposed to act and are much less likely to conform to his will. Letting a child do whatever he wants is not a sign of love, but the very opposite. Children need to be disciplined, since otherwise they will never become the adults they are meant to be. Similarly, God’s children also need to be taught how to think and behave, or else they too will never come to the maturity they are meant to have in spiritual things.

Today, when we read the writings of the great Reformers and Puritans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, we are often shocked by their readiness to attack their opponents in the most scurrilous terms, a readiness which (it must be acknowledged) was fully reciprocated by those on the other side. Of course, it was an age of theological controversy and also one of literary hyperbole, and some allowance has to be made for that. The odium theologicum (“theologically motivated hatred”) so painfully obvious in some of their writings was not invented by them, nor did it fade out with their passing. The sad truth is that some of the greatest men of the church have been among the worst offenders, and even today it is by no means uncommon to hear Christians speak uncharitably about those with whom they disagree. In the final analysis, however, there is no excuse for the behavior of earlier generations in this respect, and it cannot be used as an excuse for us to follow in their footsteps.

Those who embark on theological study must be warned that they are treading on holy ground, and that they are marked men in the eyes of the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Those who will be found worthy of the task that lies before them are those whose hearts are nourished by love and whose minds are enriched by faith and faithfulness to God and his word. The language of theology is the language of love, because it is in love that God sent his Son to save us. It is in that spirit that we are called to go forward, and in that spirit alone that we shall one day stand in his presence, when all things will be revealed and we shall know even as we have been fully known.

 

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John Feinberg, Can You Believe It’s True? Christian Apologetics In A Modern & Postmodern EraWheaton: Crossway, June 2013. 528 pp. Hardcover, $40.00.

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John Feinberg is professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has been teaching apologetics at the graduate level for more than 30 years. He is the editor of Crossway’s Foundations of Evangelical Theology series and has written several books on apologetics and ethics. Now, with Can You Believe It’s True? Christian Apologetics in a Modern & Postmodern Era, he offers readers a comprehensive case for evidential apologetics in light of a postmodern (and modern) era.

Overview

This book is split into 3 parts. The first deals with foundations of truth, specifically in light of modern and postmodern thought. After a brief introductory chapter, Feinberg sketches for readers a general introduction to modernity and postmodernity. Having oriented readers to those streams of thought, he then deals with their respective skepticism, dealing first with postmodernity. He takes two chapters to accomplish this, the first being a general overview, and the second dealing specifically with some of the issues postmodern thought uncovers related to objectivity and subjectivity in human reason. The final two chapters in this section deal with modern skepticism. The first is an overview, and the second deals with issues related to doubt and certainty.

The second part surveys different approaches to Christian apologetics. The first chapter is devoted to Reformed Epistemology and offers readers a close reading of Alvin Plantinga’s thought. Feinberg is generally appreciative, and his conclusion is worth quoting at length:

I have spent much space in presenting, explaining, and defending Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology, not only because I think he is basically right, but because I think he addresses a very important set of objections to theistic and (more specifically) Christian belief. For the most part, I think Plantinga has accomplished what he set out to do. I believe has shown that it can be completely rational and warranted for someone to hold religious beliefs. Since many skeptics of theism have thought theistic believers aren’t worth hearing because they don’t and even can’t offer sufficient evidence for their religious beliefs, what Plantinga argues is, I believe, a strong and correct reply (246).

That being said, Feinberg sees Plantinga’s work as essentially an exercise in negative apologetics, and so “doesn’t establish theism or Christianity as a whole as true, nor does it attempt to do so” (248). It does however do a good job in rebutting objections that Christians are irrational.

He then turns to presuppositionalism, and offers a close reading of the thought of Cornelius Van Til and Francis Schaeffer. Unlike some evidentialists, Feinberg actually does a good job of expositing Van Til’s writings and trying his best to understand his point of view. Judging from the endnotes, 1 Feinberg has read the key works of Van Til and then some. Though he ultimately doesn’t think presuppositionalism is the best approach, he does detail five significant contributions he thinks the school of apologetics makes (280-282):

  • An important reminder that everyone has presuppositions and our assumptions figure into the worldview we hold and defend
  • An emphasis on the need for the Holy Spirit to be involved in apologetics
  • A reminder that human reason is finite and has been negatively impacted by sin
  • The fact that Scripture does teach everyone knows God exists
  • The strategy of deducing contradictions and demonstrating absurdities in other worldviews (it’s method of argumentation)

From this, one can tell that Feinberg is attempting to see the value of presuppositionalism, even though he ultimately doesn’t think it is the best method to adopt. To complement his list of contributions, he details 5 points he disagrees with:

  • Van Til’s rejection of common ground between believers and unbelievers (284)
  • Van Til’s insistence that there are no brute facts on the basis that no one is neutral in their world outlook (286)
  • Van Til’s understanding of circular arguments (287, he thinks circularity applies to method of argument, but sees Van Til as applying the circularity to the content of the argument)
  • The way followers of Van Til disparage the ability of human reason to discover truth (289)
  • The fact that presuppositionalism (as Feinberg sees it) leaves apologists with nothing positive to say (293, as in there is no emphasis on building a positive case for Christianity).

Overall, Feinberg has some theoretical issues with Van Til’s approach, but in the main, he is appreciative of its distinctive emphases. However, he sees evidentialism as a better overall method, and so devotes the following chapter to explaining it.

The third part is Feinberg’s positive exposition of some lines of evidence. Rather than presenting evidences for God’s existence (because he sees Plantinga taking care of that, rather than the theistic proofs), Feinberg deals with the problem of evil (chapter 10), the reliability of the Gospels (chapter 11), the resurrection (chapter 12), and the issue of religious pluralism (chapter 13). Readers will benefit from Feinberg’s clear case for the evidence that supports the Christian worldview.

Evaluation

For me, it was interesting to read Feinberg’s work from a presuppositionalist perspective. The way he deals with modern skepticism differs from a Van Tillian approach, but is compelling nonetheless. I found it valuable as well that he spends so much time interacting with postmodern thought. Even though he is ultimately coming from an evidentialist perspective, his “ground-clearing” in the first part of the book has much to teach those who lean in a presuppositionalist direction.

Additionally, I was surprised how much of a fair shake he gave to Van Til. I think his work would have benefited from more interaction with Frame and especially Oliphint’s recent work. In the latter case I realize he probably had already submitted the manuscript, so I’ll content myself with trying to imagine what he would say when I read Oliphint next month. Frame is not altogether absent, but the focus is on Van Til and Schaeffer. Given that, his close reading is doing its best to give Van Til the benefit of the doubt, even when he ultimately faults him on several grounds.

As for the writing style, Feinberg is writing a highly philosophical and theological book on apologetic method, but manages to do so in a way that is accessible to most readers. For lay readers, I’m sure the endnotes are helpful, but I generally always hate them. He tries to avoid jargon and I think he does a good job in doing so. Many readers might be daunted by the overall size of the book (470 pages without the endnotes and index), but if one is willing to invest some time, the payoff, I think, is worth it.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a book on apologetic method that is philosophical, yet accessible, this a good resource to add to your library. Feinberg not only deals with philosophical issues related to our pursuit of truth, he present positive evidences for the Christian faith in very key areas. It’s hard to imagine more relevant discussions that the problem of evil, the historicity of the resurrection, the reliability of the Gospels, and the problem of religious pluralism. Feinberg’s work covers them all and then some. If you’re serious about Christian apologetics, then you’ll probably want to pick this book up.

[Thanks to Crossway, I was sent a free copy of this book in exchange for posting this review!]

Notes:

  1. Which is a major downside of this book, by the way